Five ways to limit temper tantrums
October 14, 1999
Web posted at: 10:33 AM EDT (1433 GMT)
By Michael Regalado, M.D.
When infants learn to walk, at about a year old, their world suddenly expands. While the drive to explore is intense during the toddler years, children may become frustrated when they fail to master a task or have necessary limits imposed. They also may face frustration when they do not possess the verbal skills to express their anger. The sum result of all these factors? The all-too familiar temper tantrum.
Tantrums are normal, but you can head them off
Almost all children will have temper tantrums between the ages of 1 and 3 years. After the age of 4 years, when kids learn better self-control and language skills, temper tantrums should cease. However, those previous three years can seem like a lifetime.
How you handle your child's tantrums can make a difference in your child's ability to cope with anger. If you see managing tantrums as a power struggle between you and your child, that is what it will become. If you see this as part of the learning process, you are likely to be more effective and less frustrated as a parent. Here are five ways to help minimize childhood temper tantrums:
1. Be predictable and consistent. Because you have to set limits, you present a confusing picture to your child as a source of both security and frustration. Predictability and consistency are critical to minimizing the confusion. It helps if you also make your child's daily routine predictable. If change must occur (for instance, you're leaving on a trip or you're changing your baby-sitter), prepare your child, anticipating that he or she may need help in coping.
2. Set appropriate and consistent limits. If you have inappropriate expectations for your child, or are inconsistent and vague, your child may not respond. Give simple explanations that your child will understand -- for instance, "If you climb on the counter, you can hurt yourself." This helps your child learn the reasoning behind the limits.
3. Help your child develop skills for controlling emotions. If you use time-outs, structure them as a strategy rather than as a punishment: "I can see you're angry; it looks like we need a time-out to help you calm down." And give your child a chance to exercise free will by letting him or her make choices. The trick is to minimize oppositional behavior. For instance, instead of asking, "Do you want to eat lunch?" ask, "Would you rather have a sandwich or fruit for lunch?" This also sets the stage for praising good choices. Finally, teach your child words which identify feelings. "You must be feeling mad right now," or "Mommy is feeling frustrated and sad that she can't spend time with you now. Is that how you feel?"
4. Make your job as a parent as easy as possible. By taking steps to organize and childproof your home, you can decrease conflicts over safety issues. This makes it easier to teach your child where he or she can and can't play. Also, teach your child only one or two things at a time. What is most important for your child to learn at the moment? Being safe? Being kind to others? Decide ahead of time where you want to focus your attention.
5. Pay attention to your needs. If you're tired, you will be less effective and less tolerant. Is your schedule so hectic that it prevents you from establishing a predictable day for your child? If so, you may need to consider lifestyle changes that will help you balance personal and professional needs.
Managing tantrums once they've started
You can't avoid all tantrums. Once one has started, allow it to run its course, and take steps to soften its impact.
Remove the object that is causing the outburst. If your child is fighting over a toy with another child, remove your child from the room to help him or her calm down, or direct your child's attention to a different toy.
Avoid feeding your child's anger. Tantrums are already emotionally charged. Yelling and spanking may make it more difficult for your child to calm down. It also may send the wrong message by modeling behavior you're working to prevent.
Ignore minor tantrums, but intervene when a tantrum involves aggressive or destructive behavior.
Don't reward or bribe your child to stop a tantrum. This only reinforces the tantrum, making it more difficult the next time.
Be positive at the end of the tantrum. Say to your child, for example, "I really like the way you calmed yourself down that time."
Copyright 1999 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.
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