Taming Your Child’s Outbursts

During the toddler years, your child is constantly learning to control impulses, bodily functions and behavior. Sometimes, the ability to maintain self-control breaks down, resulting in a tantrum. You may not be able to avoid them, entirely, but you can minimize their frequency and intensity. To tame your child’s outbursts:

  1. Practice prevention. Make sure your child is well-rested and not unduly stressed. This can prevent many tantrums.
  2. Loosen the reins a bit. Make sure your toddler has freedom and time to run and play without worrying about making a mess or being stopped from engaging in fun activities. Save “NO” for really important issues.
  3. Stay calm. When your child does have a tantrum, remain in control. Try gently, but firmly, holding your child. Move your child away from the source of anger and give him/her a chance to recover.
  4. Before a tantrum reaches full throttle, your child may be responsive to a change in scenery or other distraction.
  5. Try humor. For a mild tantrum, try defusing the situation with humor. Just be careful that your child knows you’re not making fun of him/her.
  6. Help undo frustration. If your toddler is frustrated because he/she can’t, say, put on his shoes, help him/her master that art so a sense of accomplishment can be felt by your child. In cases of safety, acknowledge your child’s desire to, for example, climb a ladder, but restate your rule firmly: “I know you want to climb up high, but that’s not allowed.” Offer an alternative, if possible: “Later we can go to the park and you can climb the slide ladder.”
  7. Don’t give in to demands. Public tantrums cause some parents to give in simply to reduce embarrassment, but this response will only serve to ensure that your child will repeat the tantrum the next time you’re out. Ignore what others may say or think in such cases, and focus on your child. As calmly as possible, state your rule and get on with business: “You will not get what you want by crying and kicking. When you calm down, we can talk about it.”
  8. Take a time-out if needed. If you’re afraid of losing control with your child, turn your back and count to ten, once you’re sure that he/she is safe. Don’t walk out, which could terrify a child who is already feeling out of control. Simply say, “I’m getting very angry and I have to turn away for a moment until I’m calm.”
  9. Discuss the tantrum. After your child has calmed down, talk about what made him/her so upset. Don’t dwell on the outburst, however. Instead, assure your child of your love with a warm hug, and join him in a pleasant activity.
  10. Don’t take your child’s behavior personally. Don’t allow yourself to feel guilty or out of control because your child has had a momentary breakdown. Though having your child shout “I hate you” can be hurtful, it’s important to keep in mind that your child’s actions are not so much directed at you as they are simply a show of their own frustrations.

Toddlers are a literal force of nature who confound even the most calm and prepared. There is a silver lining to these flop-and-flail years: Kids can quickly slip out of anger and sadness just as quickly as they slipped in. The average tantrum lasts about three minutes. That is why shortly after a tantrum, your child is back to playing as if nothing happened while you are still quaking from the even a half hour later. So, enjoy the that post-freak-out cuddle and prepare yourself for the next round!

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