Toddler tantrums are a particularly challenging aspect of parenting.
It’s easy to feel like a good parent when our toddlers are smiling and at ease, but it’s a different story when they are lying on the floor kicking and screaming. It helps then, to remind ourselves that tantrums are an important part of a toddler’s emotional health.
Not all children have tantrums, but they are equally common in boys and girls, and usually between the ages of one and three.
Tantrums are a Toddler's Way of Trying to Communicate
Crying, screaming, kicking, hitting or breath-holding is just a way of telling us something (their own language skills are still developing so they don't have the tools yet to actually explain to us that they are upset or frustrated).
Fortunately, as language skills improve, tantrums decrease - unless children learn that this behaviour works!
Tears are Good
Tears shed hormones and toxins that accumulate during stress. When a child cries, they are literally releasing stress from their bodies (which is why ahead of a tantrum nothing is right for the toddler, yet after the storm has passed they are in a much better mood). Crying also stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and “feel-good” hormones.” So, it’s actually beneficial to let a tantrum run its course without trying to interrupt. That way the child can get to the end of their feelings and start feeling better.
Crying is not hurt, but the process of becoming unhurt
Some Helpful Tips
- Take preventive measures by attempting to reduce frustrations, disappointments, overstimulation, tiredness or hunger – all these are natural triggers for tantrums.
- Remember that a tantrum over a seemingly minor event may be a pretext for releasing an entire day’s worth of accumulated frustrations or disappointments. Our most helpful response is simply to allow the crying or tantrum to occur. If the crying is disruptive (or in public), the child can be taken to another place and supported there.
- Resist the urge to "make things better," or distract the child from their feelings. Showing loving sympathy and reflecting their feelings ("You're really sad about that.") may temporarily make the crying louder, it will help the child feel understood and will give them the necessary permission to express their feelings.
- Tantrums are actually a big compliment even if it doesn’t always feel that way. In most cases children aren’t using tantrums to manipulate us or to get what they want. Often, they are accepting of the situation, the tantrum is just their expression of how they feel about it.
Tears and tantrums are built-in healing mechanisms that help children overcome the effects of stress and trauma. We shouldn’t try to distract, curtail or punish them for it.