Why Do Toddlers Have Temper Tantrums? What Parents Need to Know

Reason for temper tantrums in toddlers
One moment they are quiet and good, and the next moment you hear them screaming, whining, or crying at the top of their voice. What is the reason behind bad behavior in toddlers? This article will educate you about the reasons behind temper tantrums in toddlers, and how to avoid them and handle them effectively.
Did You Know?
Temper tantrums in toddlers occur the most between the ages 1 - 2, as this is when toddlers understand more than they can express.
Your 3-year old refuses to eat breakfast. You have denied his favorite snack repeatedly. He asks for it one more time and you refuse it sternly, a bit louder this time. This has a negative effect and his whining and nagging is transformed to ear-splitting screams, kicking of legs, and even hitting...
End of your patience. You have lost it now and you either satisfy his incorrigible demands - which calms him down and makes him happy, playful, and good to go now - or you lose your cool, which worsens the situation with a good half hour wasted trying to calm him down and reason with him.

Sounds familiar? A situation you face every other day that often leaves you feeling helpless, sometimes angry, frustrated, and embarrassed or apologetic in a public place. Well, good news. This Buzzle article educates you about the science behind temper tantrums in toddlers, how to deal with them, and also suggests some dos and don'ts when toddlers behave badly or throw a fit.
What is a Temper Tantrum?
Temper Tantrum
A temper tantrum is an unplanned expression of anger and frustration that often involves physical and verbal outbursts. A child will cry, scream, stomp his feet, and thrash his arms and legs during a temper tantrum. A tantrum usually lasts from 30 seconds to several minutes, and are very common between the ages of 1 and 4 years. They can occur daily in some children, and rarely in others. They are an inseparable part of a child's growing years.
Science Behind Temper Tantrums
Tantrum in a Child
Temper tantrums occur for a reason in kids, especially between the ages of 1 and 3 years. It is not about you being a bad parent or raising a spoiled kid, but a whole new phase of development and learning that they go through. These tantrums are a way of letting out their frustration, anger, or any strong feelings which they are unable to express due to limited understanding of language. The outbursts are their way of reacting to these negative emotions.
❖ The part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, that regulates emotions and social behavior, begins to develop and mature at the age of 4. Till then toddlers lack the self-control and inhibition to overcome these negative emotions. They hence react with the only possible option they know - throwing a fit.

❖ Children, especially toddlers, feel emotionally secure and free in the presence of their parents. They know that parents will be there for them and love them no matter how they behave. Hence, after being good for so long at the daycare or nursery, it is common for their emotions to flow out when parents are around.

❖ Toddlers are smart, and tantrums are their way of seeking attention from parents. They want to be heard or looked after, and they know that by throwing a fit or behaving badly they get undivided attention.

❖ Gina Mireault, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Johnson State College, in Vermont, says, "Kids this age think magically, not logically. Events that are ordinary to us are confusing and scary to them." Though it may seem ridiculous and stupid to us, in their world these things matter, and they will try and conduct their own experiments to prove things. They are curious and getting to know the bigger world that they are suddenly exposed to.

❖ They are unable to understand why their parents are always denying, scolding, or preventing them from doing something.

❖ There is a fear of abandonment by parents, sibling rivalry, confusion, expectations not being fulfilled, a long wait for needs to be satisfied, and anxiety almost on a daily basis. If parents know the triggers of a tantrum, then it is easier to deal with them.
Tantrum Triggers
Tantrum Triggers
Temper tantrums seem to occur at the worst possible time. Here are a few instances that may set children off or trigger a tantrum.

♦ Physical discomfort - like hunger and tiredness or lack of sleep.
♦ Emotional overload, fear, excitement, frustration, or lack of attention.
♦ The desire for independence and doing something on their own.
♦ Curiosity to explore the world and understand it which may translate into bad behavior.
♦ Boredom and sitting idle for a long time.
♦ Change in the routine - which may make them uncomfortable and peevish.
♦ Inability to perform a task or express themselves.
♦ Rushing them from one activity to another without forewarning.

Trying to avoid things that trigger or start a tantrum can be difficult initially, but with time your observations and insights will help you gain knowledge about what sets off your child and how to deal with him. If you are aware of the triggers or situations that give rise to tantrums in toddlers, then with a little planning and minor adjustment, you can try to prevent them.
Dealing with Tantrums
Stay Calm
Stay Calm
Be calm and take a deep breath. That's the key. As a parent, losing your cool is a strict no-no when your tot is throwing a tantrum. If they see you losing your cool at the slightest provocation, it will be very hard for them to control their strong emotions. Use a soothing, gentle, but firm voice, and take charge of the situation. Do not leave the room in anger or storm out. Be around or your child may feel abandoned. Be patient and understanding when dealing with a toddler tantrum.
Embrace
Embrace
Hold your child close and talk soothingly to him. Sometimes this may backfire though, and can reinforce the behavior. If that happens, you can let him cool down and then take him in your arms to comfort him. Try to make him understand his behavior and convey your feelings to him. He is more likely to understand after he has cooled down a bit.
Distract
Distract his Attention
Divert their attention to something else. Children are easily distracted and if you sense that a tantrum is on its way, deviate their attention to something else. It will deflect their attention and a tantrum is kept away. However, this will work only in the initial stages of a tantrum. If a tantrum is at its peak, then it is better you let them be on their own. Be around, but take no notice of the tantrum. Make sure that they do not hurt themselves, others, or become destructive (breaking things around).
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Laughter
Laughter
Make funny faces or introduce humor, so that your child laughs. Laughing eases tension and your child will often forget what upset him. This also is only helpful in the initial stages of a tantrum. Once it becomes a full-blown tantrum, funny faces and humor might not work; it might seem that you are making fun.
Time-outs
Time-outs
If your child is above 18 months old you can put him somewhere safe so that he can blow off the heat and calm down. Or you can also set a time out for him to cool down. You can try and inculcate various ways in which the toddler calms down. This way you will know the best method which can help get over a tantrum. The limits and time-outs that you set now will help control your child's temper in future as well, since he will know how to react. You will have to repeatedly tell your child about self-control and time-outs to inculcate good habits and ways to overcome his temper and bad behavior.
Ignore
Ignore
The mistake that most parents make is reacting or responding to the tantrum. Try ignoring the tantrum and carrying on with your work, but be in his visible range. If you do not acknowledge it, a tantrum loses its appeal. And your tot will get the message, he will cool down and get back to what he was doing. If things are going out of hand, or if your child or anyone else is getting hurt, then step in and take control of the situation.
Dos
Set an Example
Set an Example
Your actions and behavior will be imitated to the core by your child. As a parent, you are the role model for him and he observes you very keenly. Your attitude and behavior will play a very important role in shaping his future. Always remember this and act accordingly. Actions speak louder than words.
Communicate
Communicate
Tell him about the behavior that you expect from him. Do not rant about it when he throws a fit, but once he calms down, sit and talk to him. Acknowledge his feelings and let him know that you understand his feelings. This may enforce positive behavior and your child will listen to whatever you have to say.
Good Habits
Good Habits
Inculcating habits like reading, listening to soothing music, playing games that are educative, etc., increase his patience and help your toddler understand the world. These are great stress-relievers, and will keep him engrossed and occupied and keep negative emotions at bay.
Give Extra Attention
Give Extra Attention
Let him know that you are there for him anytime and every time. He needs your attention for his sense of security, self-esteem and well-being. Just sit beside him for a few minutes and help him in whatever activity he is involved in. He will be genuinely happy and you will surely notice the change.
Reward Good Behavior
Reward Good Behavior
Praise your child's actions when he does something right, and let him know about your happiness (with words, hugs, and high-fives) and appreciation. Positive reinforcement is better and good manners, like using 'please' and 'thank you', deserves a pat on the back or a treat.
Let Him Explore
Let Him Explore
Let your child research and carry out his own experiments. Be around to keep a watch on what he is doing. The best way would be to show him how to play and be a part of his world. It will help strengthen the bond between you and your child and will give you immense joy and happiness.
Indulge in Family Activity
Indulge in Family Activity
Plan an activity for the whole family to actively participate in the task - be it cleaning, washing, cooking, reading, gardening, etc. Not only will it serve as a great stress-reliever, but it will also bring the family together and increase attachment. Your tot will be happy and won't even remember to be cross or display bad behavior.
Keep Him Busy
Keep Him Busy
Your kid has an upsurge of energy at this age. To turn it into positivity and enforce good behavior you need to engage your toddler and keep him occupied, so that the energy is utilized in doing something productive. If he lacks structure and has nothing to do, then this energy tends to come out in the form of bad behavior in a child.
Be Consistent
Be Consistent
Inconsistency and bending your rules and expectations can confuse your child. So be logical and clear in whatever regulations you follow. Though following this everyday can be exhausting, remember that the ground rules you set now will affect your kids in later years as well. For example, do not change the time allotted for any activity. Hear no excuses and initiate the activity, so that the kids have no other choice left but to follow suit. Eventually your child will get the message that you are not a pushover and will learn to behave.
Seek Professional Advice
Seek Professional Advice
If your child behaves in a way which is self-destructive or excessively violent way too often, do not hesitate to seek medical help. Also, if his outbursts continue for about ten minutes and he takes a long time to calm down, there may be something else bothering him or an underlying condition that needs to be diagnosed. Frequent temper tantrums and outbursts may also indicate that something is amiss and needs to be checked by a professional.
Empathize
Empathize
Appreciate the positive change that your toddler has reinforced in his behavior. Express your emotions and feelings as well. Help him identify the emotions and explain their effects. Empathize and understand what he is going through. Do not hesitate to apologize if you feel the need.
Appreciate
Appreciate
Genuinely appreciate and praise good behavior. Provide hugs and embraces to show your happiness. Whatever you say and convey will be etched in his mind. Never compare your child to other kids.
Delegate to the Less Available Parent
Delegate to the Less Available Parent
You and your child need a break from each other to refresh yourselves from the same mundane routine. A change is just what you need to overcome the frustration by letting your partner take charge of your kid.
Be Around
Be Around
Whenever your kid is engrossed in any activity, be around to keep watch. Just stop by and communicate, praise, or talk to him in general. His mood will be uplifted. Try it. These small gestures make a large difference in controlling tantrums.
Don'ts
Spank
Don't Spank
Never hit or abuse your child. It creates a very negative impression. It sends a message across that you are out of control. It also conveys that hitting and force is accepted and feelings should be suppressed. A child will have difficulty venting his feelings and will feel scared to talk about his feelings. No spanking, physical, or corporal punishment.
Yell and Shout
Don't Yell and Shout
Refrain from yelling and shouting back. It will aggravate the tantrum. At this stage, the kid needs someone to take charge and have a calming effect on him. Agreed that a loud tantrum can leave you confounded and perplexed, however, take a few deep breaths and calm down. Then decide how to respond and handle the tantrum. Do not try to reason with your child at this point.
Quarrel
Don't Quarrel
Never argue or fight with your partner/spouse in front of your child. It has a negative influence on his mind. He will get frightened, depressed, withdrawn, irritable, insecure, and will be unable to sleep. His growth, mental ability, development, and attitude towards life get affected. The toddler years are very important for the formation of a strong foundation of good values, optimistic attitude, and a positive approach towards life in your child. The differences, arguments, and disagreements should be confined to your bedroom when your child is out of earshot, asleep, or out.
Give In
Don't Give In
Don't let him take advantage of you. If you cave in to his demands, he will learn to use inappropriate behavior to get his way. Toddlers are intelligent and they will know that you give in easily. They will tend to use the same techniques repeatedly. If your tot hits you, ignores your requests, or shows any other bad behavior repeatedly, it's time you show him the consequences of his actions.
Take It Personally
Don't Personalize
Toddler tantrums are not directed at you so don't personalize. Always remember that this is a stage that your child is going through and will eventually pass. It is manageable, and with your help and guidance your child will learn better self-control. As children gain maturity, they understand their emotions better and learn to express themselves, thus minimizing temper tantrums.
You know your kid the best. You can come up with many innovative and simple ways to nip the tantrums in bud. Help your kid become a responsible, caring, and well-behaved child. You will need to use the trial and error method regarding the techniques to find out what works best for your child. You are the ideal judge and mentor for him. Trust your instincts and act accordingly. A little understanding, empathy, and patience on your part will work wonders to curb the temper tantrums of your child. It will help your child overcome his anger and frustration, help him gain self-control, and make him a better person to face obstacles in life.
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