Sunday, 26 October 2014

Toddler tantrums: why do they happen and what can I do?

Why does my toddler throw tantrums?

Toddlers will 'act out' for a number of reasons. Sometimes, as discussed in my last post, it is a way of testing boundaries

Children may also display unsettled behaviour if their routine changes, or if there is no routine. It is their way of telling you they need those boundaries and routines.

A classic reason for toddler tantrums is often for attention. If your little one wants attention, they don't care how they get it or whether it is positive or negative attention, they just want your full attention. This is often why a new baby in the family can result in a change in your toddler's behaviour as they want the attention back and will do anything they can think of to get it. 

Frustration or an inability to express themselves is another common reason for acting out in toddlers. They are learning and developing at a phenomenal rate but they haven't quite figured out how to express themselves properly yet. This frustration can lead to almighty meltdowns and misunderstandings.

Boredom can also play a part in your little one's behaviour. As mentioned, the developmental spurt they are going through means they want to be challenged and stimulated and the things that used to do that don't cut it anymore. Unfortunately they may not be able to explain this to you properly, leading to frustration and a meltdown.
While there are many reasons why your child may throw a tantrum, the ones I have listed above are just a few to be aware of. At the end of the day, you know your little one best and will be able to recognize the route cause of a tantrum once you get used to looking for it.

So what are some ways of helping my child (and me!) through this time?

Make sure you spend quality time with them - have a certain time with them each day that is all about you and your little one, giving them your full attention during this time.

Boundaries and routines - see my last post for information on why boundaries and routines are so important in helping your child to develop happily and healthily.

Try and understand them - a toddler wants to be independent and at times can seem very grown up, but at other times they want to be babied. It's an odd in-between time in their development and it can help if you are aware of this yo-yoing they are going through and support them through it. 

Be consistent - decide how you are going to handle your toddler's tantrums and try and follow the same process as much as you can each time. Your little one needs the boundaries and routines and it will help you stay in control. 

Don't change your mind - whatever you say must be followed through. If not, your super smart toddler will soon realize that you don't mean what you say and will not care about the threats you make or the rewards you offer. If you say they have 3 chances, after the 3rd make sure you follow through with the consequence you previously explained to them. Children need to learn that actions have consequences and experience this first hand.

Don't give them negative attention - as mentioned above, children will soon realize if the best way to get your attention is to throw an almighty fit. Stay as calm as you can and deal with the tantrum in a restrained way. Calm them down then talk to them about it afterwards. Once they have managed to control themselves, give them lots of positive attention. 

Positive attention - when your toddler does something to be proud of, make a huge fuss of them! They will soon learn that positive actions lead to lots of attention and they will be less likely to play up to get negative attention. It is a good idea to give rewards for positive actions and their behaviour will soon change.

Explain yourself - very calmly explain to your child why what they are doing is not acceptable, what you would like them to do and what the consequences of their actions will be if they carry on. They need to understand what is happening so they can take some control of the situation and learn from their actions.

Give them space - at this time in their development, toddlers are becoming independent and they need to be able to try things for themselves in order to develop these important skills. Let them know you are there to support them if they need it but that they are grown up enough to try by themselves. For example, let them try putting on their own clothes, feed themselves and tidy up by themselves. Toddlers who are not used to doing things by themselves are often more likely to throw tantrums when they suddenly don't get the help they are used to or don't get what they want.

Don't worry if it all goes wrong - dealing with toddler tantrums can be incredibly tough and knowing the magic key to calming them down, dealing with your own emotions as well as theirs and trying to stay calm can be very difficult. Try your best and know when to step back, take a deep breath and try again. None of us are perfect and it is okay to approach a tantrum in a way that doesn't work for you and your child. It will be trial and error to find the most effective approach and try to make mental notes on what did and didn't work for you last time.

Remember, while you will always have times that your children will push the boundaries, the 'terrible two's' is just a phase and there is light at the end of the tunnel. You and your little one can get through this time of huge change, just stay strong and give them lots of love :)

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See you soon!

 Katie is an Early Years specialist in Dubai, where she 
manages an EYFS nursery. She has a special interest 
in psychology and early childhood development.


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