A temper tantrum – defined by the U.S. National Library of Medicine as unpleasant and disruptive behaviors or emotional outbursts – will challenge even the best of parents. Besides throwing our hands in the air and searching for solutions (not to mention some peace and quiet!), what exactly is a parent supposed to do about this frustrating behavior?
Parents need to offer young children both understanding and guidance as they learn and practice the self-control and communication skills necessary to control their tempers. The next time you’re faced with a temper tantrum, keep in mind these helpful parenting insights into what typically incites tantrums, what constitutes age-appropriate expectations, and how to react to in a constructive way:
- Developing social skills takes time. Learning to control and express one’s emotions, to convert strong feelings into words rather than actions, and to consider how our actions affect others takes time. These are skills that young children simply don’t yet possess. Parents should actively teach, model, and positively reinforce social skills, but keep in mind that most children will not begin mastering them until 3 to 5 years of age – and even then, social skills require years of practice.
- You’d be frustrated, too. Young children are experiencing budding independence, both in their physical abilities and in their thinking. As they develop stronger opinions, however, they also tend to know what they want to a much greater extent than they can communicate to others. If you were faced with this understandably frustrating situation day-in and day-out, you might just throw a tantrum, too!
- An “it’s all about me” attitude is developmentally normal. Children under the ages of 3 to 5 see the world in a very me-centric way, as in, “It’s all about me, what I want, and when I want it.” While challenging, knowing that this attitude is developmentally normal helps make sense of why young children struggle with “playing nice” with others.
- It’s a child’s job to test limits. Children learn how the world works by testing limits, and taking this view can help parents be more understanding when faced with yet another tantrum. That said, it is equally important for parents to recognize their job, which is to actually set some limits. It’s normal to feel sorry for your child when they’re going through a tantrum, but that shouldn’t keep you from setting limits and helping your child learn what is (and isn’t) acceptable.
- Be aware of tantrum tipping points and avoid them when possible. Common situational triggers can set off a temper tantrum in a child, such as being tired, stressed, off-routine, sick, and/or simply wanting something he is not allowed to have. Given that the skills needed to refrain from temper tantrums are not very developed early in childhood and inherently take time to learn, and that tantrum tipping points are abundant, it’s a wonder that children don’t throw more of them!
While I can think of an adult or two who still engages in these vexing behaviors, temper tantrums are fortunately associated with young children. The good news is that if we do our jobs right as parents, we can help ensure our children outgrow temper tantrums long before they reach adulthood!