Imagine you have listened to one audio lesson in Swahili. Overnight you find yourself in Africa. You’re hungry, tired and grumpy. You do not like the situation one bit. How do you get your point across?
“You don’t have the language,” said Susan Epperly, an Atlanta-based parent coach and writer on early childhood. “Your brain is going crazy with all this new stuff, and you have no words.”
This is how toddlers feel, she explained. And this is one reason these children, from ages 1 to about 3 years, throw their knock-down, drag-out temper tantrums: they are frustrated, they sense we as the parents/caregivers are frustrated and they have few other ways to express themselves. Children also are responding to parents setting boundaries; toddlers are mobile and curious, which means we are, for the first time, telling them that dreaded word “no,” Epperly said.
“It’s very natural for these children to act the way they do,” she added.
It may be natural for a toddler to scream, kick and cry at times, but that doesn’t make it easier to tolerate. So how can parents temper those raging tantrums? Here are a few tips:
Stay calm, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on its website healthychildren.org. “If you shout or get angry, it can make things worse,” the site states. If you feel the anger boiling over, step out of the room and take some deep breaths. “Relax,” Epperly said. “It’s just a kid being a kid.”
Be prepared, Epperly tells clients. A hungry toddler who can’t tell you she is hungry needs snacks. An exhausted one needs you to finish errands before naptime. So bring food and water for her when you are out, and pay attention to the child’s schedule.
Know when to leave. If you do decide to chance that last run-in to the grocery store as naptime creeps up, and your toddler creates a scene when you say “no candy,” Epperly said, cut your losses. “Leave the cart, take the kid home and give him a nap.”
Keep perspective. Often parents – especially mothers, said Epperly — believe their children’s behavior is a reflection of themselves. Caregivers need to know and understand that children simply do bad things. “It’s human nature to be a little rotten,” she explained. “That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the kid,” and, by extension, you.
Ignore some behaviors; react immediately to others, says the AAP site. If you do not respond to minor whining, crying and even stomping, toddlers are less inclined to continue. At the same time, do not tolerate hitting, biting or kicking, or throwing things. Tell the child firmly, “No hitting,” and remove the child from the situation.
Take care of yourself, Epperly advised. If you go for a run, get enough sleep, have date nights and time with friends, and partake of your own interests, you will feel recharged and be less apt to be bothered by tantrums. Being clear-headed and eliminating your own stress can also keep your toddler’s anxiety level down, she said, keeping you more tuned in to her needs and ultimately cutting tantrums off before they start.
Have other tips for how to handle toddler tantrums? Leave us a note in the comments below.