HOW TO HANDLE TANTRUMS IN THE EARLY YEARS CHILD

  • Blog By
    Sumita Sen Mazumdar
    Principal – Erode KG Campus
    The Indian Public School – Erode.
    September, 14 2023 | In Blog

WHAT EXACTLY IS A TANTRUM IN A CHILD?

When a child suddenly throws an uncontrollable physical fit to express their frustration and anger, it is typically considered a tantrum. Such temper tantrums can be whining, shouting, crying, screaming, kicking, hitting others, self head-banging, rolling on the ground, breath-holding, etc. While tantrums can occur even for older children or some adults, mostly it is seen in children from 1 ½ up to 3 years or so, at a developmental stage where they want to get control and are prevented from indulging in unrestrained action.

HANDLING TANTRUMS AT HOME AND IN PUBLIC

AT HOME

Away from the public eye, if a child throws a tantrum at home, let it play out from beginning to end. Do not use any distraction method to interrupt the tantrum here because it diverts from the more important lesson of facing and understanding underlying emotions and how they can be expressed in a more comfortable and acceptable way. The idea here is to let the child feel safe in expressing their emotions, that an emotion is neither good nor bad; it is simply what we’re feeling strongly on the inside. Expression of emotions is okay and healthy too. As the adult, observe why the tantrum occurred, what were the possible reasons for the child to have felt frustrated.

WHAT TO DO STEP-BY-STEP

PATIENCE IS KEY

Be present with the child. If they’re standing, stand next to them. If they’re sitting or flailing their arms lying down on the floor, sit next to them. Do not verbally or physically engage with them during their outburst. Let the child simply see that you are there. Resist the urge to physically console the child immediately because you would be adding to their already overstimulated state and they are likely to increase the volume of whatever they were doing when touched at this stage. Don’t verbally negotiate with them at this stage either; they can’t process what you’re saying in their turbulent mental state. Ensure the child is physically safe, don’t interrupt their outburst and don’t try to end the tantrum. Stay calm and patiently watch.

LET IT RUN ITS COURSE

However inconvenient, at home let the tantrum play out because if the child cannot release all their emotions out now, another outburst is likely and that could happen in public. So, maintain your calm. Let the child finish their outburst and calm down in their own time. The tantrum will eventually subside, however long it seems at first.

BE RECEPTIVE

When the outburst starts slowing down a little, or the child seems to have somewhat lost their initial tantrum high energy, physically demonstrate being receptive to them by an open arms gesture or inviting them to come closer, etc. This conveys to them that you are available to comfort them. Since children seek attention, acknowledging their emotions or validating them will work positively in the management of emotional upheavals. When the child has mostly calmed down and is maybe hugging you back, it is the right time to talk to them. In a very calm, even-tempered voice, communicate to the child, acknowledging what they felt because of the triggering factor. For example, “I understand that you are angry because we did not buy that”. If this happens next time, you may cry again and that is alright. What’s important here is that you help the child identify and name the emotions felt (example – anger) and how they were expressed (example – crying) to understand and process what happened. Mention the emotion and then let it go. Make it a point to practise positive reinforcement, when they do calm down, such as praising them for how well they are handling things by using their emotion label words to express what they’re feeling instead of lashing out in outbursts.  Children like to be praised and acknowledged; therefore, if this kind of positive reinforcement can be done consistently, with time, there will fewer and fewer physical outbursts as the child learns what kind of behaviour is expected from them that will be vocally appreciated.

HANDLING TANTRUMS IN PUBLIC

In public, the above suggested methods may be challenging to apply, especially in a crowded place like a mall or park.

BE ALERT

Be on the lookout in known triggering situations for the possible start of a tantrum. As soon as you feel a tantrum is likely to start or it has just started, try distraction or relocation to a quieter spot. Don’t get flustered, stay calm. Since parents and other adults are role models to children, maintain that calm and composure while you figure out what works best in the situation. Don’t express anger at the child or ignore them in the pre-or very first signs of a tantrum.

IF THE DISTRACTION FAILED

If the distraction failed or the tantrum progressed too quickly to a full-on outburst, find a quiet place to take the child to. Usually an empty food court, restroom or inside your own car could work. Anywhere with a place to sit is fine. Once you have found a quiet spot, sit with the child and follow the steps for the home tantrum management. Avoid expressing your own frustrations at being delayed or embarrassed by the child. You can feel it but don’t show it to the child. Maintain a calm tone. Ridiculing or belittling the child for behaving this way will only make them more upset. Simply announce that you are going to a place where you and the child can sit down for a while comfortably.

MANAGING THE SITUATION FOR THE MOMENT

In public, you can try to use the distraction tactic in the early stages of a tantrum to redirect the child’s attention to something else. For example, you could ask them to help you choose something in another corner of the shop if they are throwing a tantrum to buy something there. Since the driving force behind a tantrum is to seek control, giving them something which they have control over is likely to work in distracting them. However, the downside of this is since the natural process of releasing pent up emotion was interrupted, unless addressed, it will try to come out again soon, likely in another attention or control-seeking tantrum.

Let us also look at how to prevent a tantrum.

PREVENTING A TANTRUM

Since a tantrum in a young child is actually a release of unprocessed emotions, ideally we should allow them to flow out, if it does happen. At the same time, we can also proactively look for ways to stop these from happening.

PLAN AND PREPARE

Carry a favourite toy or possession of the child to use as a distraction when taking them to a place with triggers or potential for overstimulation.

PROCESS THE EMOTION

When they have calmed down, talk and help them understand what they felt and how they chose to express it. Labeling or identifying their emotions empowers the child and helps give a sense of control.

ENCOURAGE ASKING FOR HELP

Even though they may not accept an offer to help them, getting them to understand that it is okay to ask for help when we need it is healthy and helps prevent future outbursts that can happen from feeling overwhelmed by a situation.

SAY YES SOMETIMES

Don’t always say NO. Agree and say YES to simple childish desires and harmless things they may want to do as much as possible because it makes accepting a “no” much easier when the time comes. Give them choices, within reason and let them choose.  Being able to choose gives a sense of being in control to the child.

ESTABLISH DAILY ROUTINES

Children benefit from stability and consistency. Following a daily routine helps the child know what to expect when and avoid being overstimulated or overwhelmed that in turn can trigger a tantrum.

NUTRITIOUS DIET AND SUFFICIENT SLEEP

Tantrums can be avoided to some extent by ensuring the child’s basic physical needs have been met.

ENCOURAGE INDEPENDENCE

Empower children to be independent and figure things out for themselves instead of micromanaging them. They will learn how to solve some of their problems on their own, feel more in control and be less likely to exhibit tantrums.

BE A ROLE MODEL

Children will emulate the parent’s behaviour. So, be sure to display healthy coping mechanisms when you, the adult are experiencing something upsetting or frustrating. The child will observe and copy the same.

Tantrums cannot be entirely avoided in early childhood. However, by following a few steps, the frequency and severity of tantrums can definitely be brought down. Experiencing different types of emotions and learning how to process them, label them, and recognize them is part of early years development. It is normal to have emotions. They needn’t be suppressed; rather they should be expressed in a healthy way. As children strive in their need to be independent and express themselves, some amount of frustration and its expression is to be expected. So, when a tantrum does occur, stay calm, be present and keep the child physically safe. When they calm down, let them know their emotions are valid, help them process the emotion and learn to recognize it. If we follow these steps, not only can you handle the tantrum that is happening, but in time, children will understand what they are feeling and have a better control over how they express emotional surges instead of resorting to a full-blown tantrum.

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