Let’s be real, we all know what a temper tantrum is. Whether you are a parent, teacher, therapist, or just someone at the grocery store, we have all seen a child having a moment of dysregulation, or what we know as a temper tantrum.
For parents, temper tantrums can be very difficult. You are going through a whirlwind of emotions: empathy for your child, trying to figure out how to help them and keep them safe, feeling frustrated, and often times when it happens in front of others, feeling embarrassed and like you have no control. Often times, when I speak to parents about tantrums, they really believe they are alone, that their child is the only child that has their moments. Well, believe me when I say: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Tantrums are completely normal and in fact, a typical part of growing up. There are different types of tantrums, and of course, many different reasons a child throws a tantrum. There are also several ways we can better understand, support and guide our little ones on how to manage a tantrum. Let’s take a closer look:
Phases of Tantrums
It is not uncommon for temper tantrums to start around 1 year of age. At this age, infants do not have a clear means of communication and don’t have a way to express their wants, needs, and feelings in a way that they feel understood, which leads to feelings of frustration. So, what does your baby do when they feel frustrated, they cry-otherwise known as a tantrum. This is the only way that your baby can communicate with you. During this stage, parents can learn to recognize their baby’s needs through the different cries (hunger, gas, discomfort, sleepiness, etc.)
In the toddler years, tantrums can look a bit different and feel a bit more intense. Toddler tantrums sometimes lead to meltdowns, which can include kicking, hitting, screaming, and biting. The difference between a tantrum and a meltdown is:
A tantrum is an expression of a want or need
A meltdown is the result of too much sensory input or a feeling of dysregulation
Again, it is important for parents to understand that tantrums are a very typical part of the development and very common for children between the ages of 1-3. As mentioned in the last blog post Communication & Behavior it is very important for parents to connect to their little one’s need, as often a tantrum is the result of an unmet need. This does not mean you are doing ANYTHING wrong. This is just your little one’s form of communication at the moment.
Around 4-6 years of age, most children begin to outgrow tantrums as they have learned more coping strategies and ways to self-regulate. Your little one may have also learned more ways effective ways to express themselves. Still, around this age, you may see tantrums occurring. The most common reasons for tantrums during this age are difficulty regulating emotions and/or testing the limits of authority.
Are There Other Reasons for Tantrums?
While most tantrums are completely normal and a result of an unmet need and/or difficulty in expressing that need, there are times that they can also be a sign of something deeper going on.
A study by Manning et al., published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology looked more closely into the connection between late talkers and tantrums. The results revealed that little ones between 12-to-38 months of age with fewer spoken words demonstrated more frequent and severe temper tantrums. Toddlers who were late talkers also had more severe tantrums when compared to their same aged peers with typical language development.
Handling a Tantrum
Now you may be wondering: “how do I help my little one express their wants and need without having a tantrum?” The answer is: PREVENTION, PATIENCE, PRACTICE & CONSISTENCY. The good news is TANTRUMS CAN BE OVERCOME. It is all about connecting with your little one’s needs and finding coping strategies that help your child in these moments of frustration or sadness.
You can reduce the likelihood of tantrums by:
- Tuning into your child’s needs
- Connecting & validating your child’s emotions and feelings
- Identifying and removing triggers
- Reducing stress
- Identifying and using positive reinforcements
When a tantrum does occur, because the truth is, they will likely happen once in a while, you can manage the tantrum by:
- Staying calm. Children are sponges and absorb ALL of our energy. If you can angry, sad, or scared they will pick up on that right away and the tantrum will likely escalate. Stay calm, stay grounded and do not get overly emotional.
- Waiting it out. Be patient. Let your child have their emotions, while of course making sure they are safe. When your child is in their tantrum or having a meltdown, there’s no point in trying to get their attention or reason with them. Let them go through the feelings and connect with them when they are ready.
- Acknowledging emotions. Once you and your little one are in a calmer space, talk to them about their emotions and show them you understand. Also, talk to them about your emotions. This will help provide support and guidance, and even ways to self-regulate.
- Being consistent. Be consistent with your approach. Children thrive off consistency and if they feel surprised or caught off guard by a reaction, or if they are feeling like they have the control, the situation could escalate. Connect to your little one’s need and your own. Consistency is key.
If your child is experiencing frequent and severe tantrums, and they are leading to aggression and behaviors that you just know are not common for your little one, seek out the support! Often times, delays in speech, language and communication, can cause a lot of frustration for our little ones. That is why early intervention is so critical and why I NEVER have the “wait-and-see” philosophy. In fact, my motto is “when in doubt, rule it out.” When you can support and guide your little one’s expression in their early years, you are having a direct impact on their adult years
If you feel like your little one’s behaviors are rooted from delays in their speech, languge and/or communication, book a complimentary parent consult with me today and let’s dive deeper into ways we can work together to support and guide you and your little one.
Sholeh Shahinfar, MA, CCC-SLP, RYT
Sholeh Shahinfar is the founder of Valued Voices, and a licensed Speech Language Pathologist, Child Communication Specialist and Certified Oral Motor Therapist. She is passionate about uplifting children’s voices in the world and inspiring self-expression. In her free time, she loves going to the ocean, exploring nature with her pup Kobe, and spending time with her family and friends!