Updated: Dec 23, 2020
From the outside a tantrum looks like a complete loss of control. On the inside this is exactly what is happening! However lets look deeper. What is a tantrum? Why is it happening and what we can do about it? And even more importantly - how we can gain from it?
Firstly it needs to be pointed out that tantrums when your child is 2-5 are quite normal. You child is still developing and as the parent or caregiver it is your role to assist and guide them. Some children have multiple tantrums and some have few or none (exceedingly rare).
Why does your child have a tantrum?
Let's looks at times when your child is more likely to have a tantrum. This is no different from us as adults. When you are tired or hungry or uncomfortable you feel more irritable and have less tolerance. This leaves you far more predisposed to losing control. The tantrum itself is born out of frustration. When the frustration gets to your limit the result is a tantrum. You have simply run out of options and strategies available to you right now in this current state. So you give in. Language is often an issue as the child cannot express themselves. This is frustrating for anyone. Imagine not being able to express how you feel, what you want, and what you need. You have a lack of control which goes against our human nature.
So a tantrum is born out of frustration. Now let us look at how we can reduce this and then deal with it. One option is preventative - set the child up to win not to fail. Ensure they are not tired or overly hungry especially when they are in situations that are new or hard for them. Help them to learn the new skill. You too will need patience with this. Have realistic expectations - know your child's age, stage and capabilities. Use this awareness to keep your expectations realistic.
The second and additional option is to teach your child how to deal with frustration.
Remove all your judgement, accept that they are frustrated and proceed to making a choice as to how you will deal with it.
The good news is that this means we can use tantrums as a learning opportunity. A child who continues to have tantrums is a child who has not yet learnt to self regulate. It is your role to help the child in this area until they can do it successfully for themselves.
How to deal with a tantrum
When there is a tantrum - all reason and sense has temporarily vacated. So instead of trying to reason, you need to assist the child to calm down. Dealing with a tantrum is about teaching your child how to calm down once a limit of tolerance has been exceeded.
Teaching a child to calm down -
Remove them (physically) from the situation.
Give them time
Give them space (mentally and emotionally, away from the problem)
After they have calmed down, give them lots of positive praise. Tell them what they did well. Don't talk negatively about what just happened. Reconnect with them and move on and do not mention it again. Remember - you don't have an issue with your child, just their behaviour. So save your own frustration - this is a learning curve for you and them. Keep practicing and you will eventually teach them to self regulate which is a skill they will need again and again in life.
In summary, a tantrum is normal. It is a loss of control when the frustration limit has been exceeded. It is your role as caregivers to teach strategies to regain control of themselves. Whilst also a lesson to you in patience and tolerance. You can gift your child the lesson of learning to deal with frustration which is a lifelong skill.