Kelly Williamson: Mother of three
Having worked in a home-based day care setting the biggest thing I came to understand is that each child is unique. One thing that remained common however was the importance and benefit to the child for connection before correction in assisting with taming children's tantrums. This means acknowledging where the children are at emotionally before attempting to redirect or address behaviours.
Emotional overload in toddlers and children
Toddler aged and young children often experience overwhelming emotions and reactions to seemingly simple events and experiences. Toddler tantrums start because of this. This can seem confusing to the parent or caregiver as to why there has been such an out of control response, and you may find yourself thinking whether children's tantrums are a normal response? Young children struggle to be able to self-regulate their emotions and reactions. For example, a trip to the store can turn into a child melting down. Different strategies can assist in helping children to become calmer and can reduce stress for all.
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Handling children's public tantrums
When children exhibit distress or reactive behaviours it can be beneficial to acknowledge this upset. In the instance of how to handle toddler tantrums in a public place, for example, a toddler may respond they are mad that they cannot have the item they have picked up in the store. This could be addressed in the way of offering a cuddle along with the words “You seem to be feeling angry or sad. It can further assist children to repeat what they say back to them. “You are feeling mad that you cannot buy the toy”.
Identifying and naming emotions
Repeating and naming emotions acknowledges the child’s distress. If the child is crying it is supportive to offer words such as ‘Sometimes when we can’t have things it can make us feel sad’. In using these strategies to address children’s behaviours can signify to them that you understand what they are experiencing and feeling.
These types of strategies assist in teaching the child about their emotions, and that an adult is there to help them to feel calmer. Using these strategies helps children to add to their toolkit of responses for the future and can give them healthy ways of dealing with stressful situations in life. This strengthens connection and sense of safety between child and caregiver.
Often once the child is feeling more settled they can exhibit more cooperative behaviours. For example, you may then be able to say to the child ‘It is your birthday soon, should we go and look and make a list or take some pictures of the presents you might like to get on your birthday’?
When do tantrums start?
Often children can be overwhelmed by a variety of things such as;
- Having to leave an activity they are enjoying
- Having to share
- Not being able to have instant gratification
- Not being able to achieve outcome wanted
- Ending playtime
- Feeling overwhelmed in different environments
- New family addition
Strategies to address tantrums
1. Taking the child to another environment to calm down
2. Offer an alternative to the activity causing frustration
3. Trying the activity again at another time when the child is calmer
4. Ensuring the child is well rested and fed before engaging in activities
5. Giving the child a time-frame and reminders that the activity is going to end to assist them in transitioning to the next activity.
6. Acknowledgement of big feelings and listening to children’s experiences - really listen
Strategies that work on one occasion may not always work on another. It can depend on the child, their level or tiredness, and what else may be occurring in their lives. Remember too, consistency supports growth and embedding of emotional response techniques. Responding to the child in a calm manner each time can assist the child in learning how to respond calmly in the future as they grow. However if all else fails cuddles are generally nearly always of great benefit for both of you.
Three extra tips
1. Teach them and yourself mindfulness - the one mindfulness technique that I use is putting my finger under my nose and focusing on nothing else except the feeling of the air coming out of my nostrils. In some cases having a drink of water and doing this can completely reverse emotions.
2. Remember, children can sense if you are tense or stressed and mirror your emotions - many studies suggest that this phenomenon comes about via mirror neurons, which are much stronger in children (under the age of 10) than in adults.
Mirroring by children of parents' actions, feelings and emotions is believed to be the way in which the brain automatically interprets the actions, intentions and emotions of other people. Mirror neurons, the cells in the brain that activate when we perform a particular action or watch someone else perform that same action, were up until recently only a theory.
3. Depending on the study, 60-80% of children do not get enough sleep. Are you cranky, short or irritable when you don't get enough sleep? Once a lady I know told me there was something wrong with my child when I said that he had just had a day time nap. There is absolutely nothing wrong with children going to bed early or having a day time nap, even a 15 minute nap can work wonders.
Whilst toddler and child tantrums are a normal part of development there could be underlying causes that signify deeper issues. Exposure to a traumatic experience such as family violence, can result in children exhibiting their distress through mal-adaptive behavioural responses. Additionally underlying medical issues may be contributing to certain behaviour responses.
Managing our feelings
As adults we can often struggle with angry or frustrated reactions in our own daily lives. If you find that those reactions are affecting you in dealing with children and perhaps you are feeling like you can't cope with child and toddler tantrums (I get it, sometimes we've all had enough!), take a deep breath and remember that if you are having a hard time, you can imagine how hard of a time your child has in regulating their emotions.
Remembering these strategies in times of stressful behaviours can be a teaching and learning opportunity for you both. Tantrums in toddlers and children are a standard occurrence, However if other causes are a concern for you please seek assistance and support.
If you and/or your child are experiencing any concerns or issues mentioned above, or you would like to increase and enhance your connection and relationships with your child and others, Inspiro has programs that offer support and assistance.
Check out Inspiro's groups Let's Play (supported play and interaction with children) and Finding Me Being Free (Family Violence group) click here Groups
You can call Inspiro on 03 9028 0153 or
About Inspiro’s services:
Inspiro is a local, not-for-profit health service that provides quality health services.
We provide general and youth counselling, drug and alcohol counselling, counselling for anxiety, depression, loss and grief, dental services, podiatry, speech therapy, occupational therapy, community health promotion, dietetics and nutrition, diabetes assistance, exercise physiology, physiotherapy and groups and programs.