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House Call: Toddlers, Tantrums and Time-Outs – Prevention

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Temper tantrums are one of the most common forms of problematic behavior in young children, but tend to decrease in frequency and intensity as the child grows older.

Because toddlers and young children often lack the proper vocabulary to express their emotions verbally, unfortunately, tantrums are a common alternative.

More: PDF: Toddlers and Tantrums Class

The basis of preventing temper tantrums in children is knowledge of their capabilities at certain ages.  Parents and caregivers should learn to distinguish what the child can’t do versus what they won’t do. 

Preventing a child’s emotional outburst also involves making statements to them, rather than asking questions.  Make it clear to them that you can see they are upset or agitated, instead of asking ‘what’s wrong’. 

After addressing the situation, try substituting a more appropriate behavior to cope with their stressed or agitated emotions.  For younger children, it’s best to demonstrate or show a visual of this behavior.  For instance, explain to your child, ‘I know you are upset, and sometimes when I’m upset, I could use an extra hug’; and follow through with the actual embrace. Using distractions and humor, such as silly voices, also enforces positive behavior. 

If preventative tactics do not work, and a child’s frequent temper tantrums are beginning to interfere with daily routines, it is time to discuss the situation with the child’s doctor.  Cone Health has an exceptional network of primary care physicians, pediatricians, behavioral health specialists and other-related healthcare providers dedicated to caring for children in the community during their important developmental years.

Spokesperson Background:

Dr. Susan Farrell is a neurodevelopmental disabilities specialist and the medical director of Cone Health Developmental and Psychological Center.  Dr. Farrell is board certified in both neurodevelopmental disabilities and pediatrics, and has been published several times for her research on pediatric development.  She is a 1971 graduate of University of Kansas Medical School. She completed her residency in pediatrics at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and completed a fellowship in neurodevelopmental pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital – Kennedy Krieger Institute.