Dealing With Your Toddler's Temper Tantrums

Parents deal with their toddler's tempter tantrums at the most inappropriate times and in the most awkward of places. Learn how to discipline affectively.

Parents often find themselves dealing with tempter tantrums at the most inappropriate times and in the most awkward of places - shopping, at holiday gatherings, in church or in the presence of "important" people. Children do not limit their temper tantrums to the privacy of their home, no matter how much parents wish they would. Are temper tantrums a normal part of childhood?

Ask any parent to describe what a temper tantrum is and they will have a collection of stories and examples for the choosing. Temper tantrums are one of the most common occurrences of childhood - even more common then the common cold. So what is a temper tantrum and why do children have them?

A temper tantrum is "a fit of bad temper displayed with inappropriate behavior such as screaming, hitting or crying out in an attempt to gain attention." Children often use temper tantrums as a means of displaying their anger, hurt or frustration with either a parent or a situation. The child feels that if they display this type of behavior, the parent will "give in" in an attempt to make the behavior stop. Temper tantrums have often been labeled as a "child's means of parent manipulation."

The age of occurrence for temper tantrums is normally between the ages of two and five. However, children who have been successful - meaning their tantrums work in their favor - may continue the practice well into their preteen years. The behaviors may change as the children grow older, but the fact that they are still having or displaying a temper tantrum remains.

So, what can a parent do in these situations and how can the temper tantrums themselves be curbed? As a temper tantrum is meant to be a means of control over the parent, the situation or the child's environment, then it is safe to say that by not allowing a child to gain control will aid in curbing the tantrums. For example, when a child is upset because the parent will not allow them to get a new toy at their local store, he/she may exhibit a temper tantrum in an attempt to gain control over the parent and "make" them purchase the new toy for him/her. If the parent does indeed purchase the new toy, the child learns that by exhibiting a temper tantrum, they will gain control over the parent and the situation, thus getting what they wanted. However, if a parent does not allow the child to influence them with the display of a temper tantrum, control remains with the parent and the child will learn that temper tantrums will not win them what they wanted.

Ignoring the behavior or making statements such as "when you throw a tantrum I can't hear you" or "I don't like watching temper tantrums so let me know when you are finished and we will talk," will both show and tell the child that their display of temper tantrums will not gain them control over the situation or the parent.

Often times parents will state that they feel "guilty" or "bad" when ignoring their children or making statements that they are not listening to them. In the case of temper tantrums, the parent is not hurting or harming the child in any way by ignoring their behavior. It is not suggested that the parent walk away from a child in a crowded store or restaurant when the child has a temper tantrum - that would be dangerous. It is instead suggested that the parent continue their original task of shopping, driving, paying bills, etc., while not drawing attention to the fact that the child is displaying inappropriate behavior. Then, when the behavior stops and the child calms down, the parent can continue the conversation or task that involved the child. This modification of parent reaction lets the child see that while their parent is still there, they are not responding to a tantrum.

In the event that the child becomes violent to him/herself or to someone else during a tantrum, parent's first response should be to protect all parties involved from harm. This may include restraining the child in the parents lap and arms or the child may simply need to be removed from the situation and location. However, as violent temper tantrums are not normal, the child may need to have medical attention and an evaluation to determine the cause and/or reason for the violent behavior.

Temper tantrums are usually dramatic, intense and full of emotion. With a little practice and persistence, parents can learn how to "stop the drama" of a temper tantrum and change the situation to a calm, quiet discussion. Keep control and keep the peace.

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