Temper Tantrums

Tantrums are more likely to happen as your child approaches the age of two. Before then, your child is still thrilled with his newfound freedom. He is not yet completely conscious of his frustration with the limits of his body or with his inability to do whatever he wants at any given time. Temper tantrums tend to occur when a child wants to do something that he isn't able to do because of physical limits or the rules of the family. Early in this year, he will be easily distracted from something that upsets him. Later on, he will try out his behavior to see what works — that is, what he can do to get what he wants.

You will be surprised when your child has his first tantrum — which may involve yelling, screaming, hitting, punching, or standing still and not moving no matter what. But you can rest assured: Tantrums are not a sign that your child is bad or out of control, and they don't mean that something is wrong with your child or that this behavior will continue indefinitely. They are a natural part of development. Most children have a few of them early in their lives. When parents respond appropriately — calmly and in a detached manner — the child learns that throwing a fit is not effective. As a result, he will learn other, more positive behavior to help him get what he wants. In short, keep in mind that you aren't a bad parent because your child has a tantrum, and they won't last forever.

Tantrums are scary to the child who is having one because the experience makes the child feel out of control. You can help by explaining what's going on; even that distance from their behavior might help them detach from it. Remain calm, and tell your child that he can stop behaving that way if he wants to. It will take a few times for him to hear you, but eventually he will.

Tantrums are about two things: emotions and behavior. But even with an understanding of what's going on, you cannot control how a person — even a young child — behaves. The more you try to control his behavior, the more he has to be upset about. Even though it's difficult, remember that this behavior will go away over time as your child learns more effective ways to handle himself.

Frustration Without Language

Sometimes tantrums occur when a child is unable to explain why she is upset or angry. For example, you might take a toy away and she might react with anger. Given that she can't verbalize her feelings, she may resort to means of communication that are available to her, such as hitting or biting. In a moment like that, it is easy to see what happened. Simply say, “I know you're angry, but I don't want you to hurt yourself. And here's something else you can do that's just as fun, but not dangerous. When you're ready, I can play with you.”

Eventually, your child will see that her behavior isn't helping to achieve her goal of getting her toy back, but that it is keeping her from doing something else.

Safety During a Tantrum

Children rarely hurt themselves when they have a tantrum. They may try head banging or hitting or biting themselves or pulling their own hair. Don't be alarmed if your child tries these tactics. He is seeking attention. The less you try to control this behavior by saying “Don't do that!” the better off you'll be.

Essential

Tantrums are stressful to parents, too. If you can, remain calm and detached during the tantrum, then allow yourself a few minutes to walk away afterward. Breathe deeply, call a friend, or turn on some music to center yourself.

Through trial and error, your child will find some behaviors to use when he doesn't get his way. Temper tantrums are one set of these behaviors. They come on, but if the response he gets is minimal or ineffective, he will try something else.

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