Making your child's tantrums a rarity

Crying. Screaming. Oh, and of course, “No,” will be used most likely in a whining fashion.

Tantrums are something most parents dread. It's easy to become frustrated or overwhelmed when your child throws a tantrum.

Experts advise parents to realize tantrums are common for children ages 1 to 3 and are a normal part of child development. At the same time, there are some things parents can do to make their child's tantrums a rare occurrence rather than a common one.

James Smithers, a licensed clinical professional counselor and the founder and president of Polaris Counseling in Naperville, said children usually throw tantrums because they understand more than they can communicate.

“Children often run into the issue of needing or wanting something, but they can't verbalize it,” he said. “This is a very frustrating scenario for them.”

Your toddler is going to throw tantrums regardless of what you do, but a proactive parenting approach can reduce the number of tantrums.

Smithers said giving a child small choices can decrease the chances of a tantrum occurring. If a child can choose between playing with a truck or coloring for example, he or she feels a sense of independence, Smithers said.

Sherri Singer, a licensed clinical psychologist at Dr. Singer's Happy Family Center in Grayslake, said tantrums can be triggered by diet, sleep and exercise issues. Simply managing these three areas can prevent tantrums, she said.

There are also some strategies parents can utilize to deal with their child's tantrums while they are happening. Singer said by remaining calm, parents are less likely to be manipulated by their child and are better able to address the tantrum. Singer's mantra is: “An out-of-control parent can never help an out-of-control child.”

Smithers agrees parents should stay calm, because getting upset with your child will only escalate the temper tantrum. Instead, try to distract your child. “Kids at this age have very short attention spans, which actually makes it quite easy to focus their attention on something else,” Smithers said.

Carol Stream mom Jessa Ovitt has also found it helpful to redirect her daughter's attention during a tantrum. Ovitt said her 20-month-old daughter, Laney, has temper tantrums that usually don't last long.

“If I can redirect her thinking and get her somewhere else, she forgets what she was throwing a temper tantrum about,” Ovitt said.

Katie Sadowski, a board-certified behavior analyst at North Shore Pediatrics in Highland Park, said having a quiet space for your child to calm down and relax in when he or she is about to have or is throwing a tantrum can help your child self-soothe. The quiet space can have calming activities and items such as stuffed animals, blankets and soothing music.

If your child is throwing a tantrum only to gain attention, then ignore your child while still closely monitoring him or her.

After your child calms down, and appropriately asks for attention, then you can address your child, Sadowski said.

If these strategies aren't effective, then a timeout may be necessary. Smithers said the timeout area should be a neutral space without toys, and should be the same spot every time.

One of the worst mistakes parents make when it comes to their child's tantrums is giving in, or bribing their child. Smithers said parents who do this are rewarding their child for throwing a tantrum and empowering them to do it again.

“If you are consistent with disciplinary strategies, your child will eventually realize it's an ineffective behavior,” he said. “They will also learn they are responsible for managing emotions and calming down.”

Some parents bribe or give in to their children's tantrums, because they believe it is a direct reflection of their parenting skills which is not the case.

“Parents shouldn't panic and feel that everyone is watching and staring if their child has a tantrum,” Sadowski said.

“Tantrums are regular behaviors of children and do not usually faze most people.”

Sadowski said parents should respond the same way in public to tantrums as they would at home. If a parent addresses their child's tantrums differently when in public then they are giving their child the idea that he or she can behave differently when not at home.

Smithers points out parents need to be more aware of their child's limits in order to reduce the likelihood of a tantrum occurring.

“Some parents may be pushing their kids too much when they try to get an extra errand in even though it's an hour past their child's nap time,” he said.

“As adults we are better able to cope with situations. We might be crabby, but we won't lie down on the floor and kick our feet in the air. Children don't have the ability to manage behavior like adults do. Because of this, it's even more important we know what our child's limits are.”

When to consult a pediatrician or counselor

Ÿ Your child's tantrums start increasing in duration or intensity.

Ÿ Your child is becoming more destructive.

How parents can avoid tantrums

Ÿ Provide positive reinforcement when child is appropriately interacting with toys or people.

Ÿ Offer child choices so he or she feels more independent.

Ÿ Try to remove items or activities that are off limits to your child.

Ÿ Be aware of your child's limits.

Ÿ Manage your child's diet, sleep, and exercise.

How parents can best address a tantrum

Ÿ Remain calm.

Ÿ Try to divert your child's attention to something else.

Ÿ Have a quiet space for your child to calm down and relax in.

Ÿ Ignore your child, while still carefully monitoring him or her. Then address the situation when your child calms down.

Ÿ If above strategies aren't effective, a timeout may be necessary.

Sending your child to timeout is just one way for a parent to deal with a tantrum.
There are many things a parent can do when trying to calm a child down from offering them different choices to help distract them to keeping themselves calm as not to hype up your child even more.
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