Many parents with toddlers are familiar with temper tantrums, the emotional outbursts common in young children that parents often find stressful or embarrassing. Tantrums can be triggered by a variety of things like if the child is tired, hungry, overstimulated, making a transition or being told “no.” In some cases, a tantrum can be prevented by recognizing what might be a trigger and putting appropriate preventions in place that decrease the likelihood of one developing. This may include scheduling naps, snacks and quiet time into their day, by trying to create smooth rather than immediate transitions, or giving a child choices when you can.
As you learn to recognize the signs that your child is “cranking up,” you can try using a distraction to stop the tantrum from progressing. If you begin seeing signs of whininess, an angry expression or body language that means a tantrum is on its way, try using humor, a favorite comfort toy or blanket, sing or engage them in play. If your child’s behavior does progress into a tantrum, stay calm. Your child is already in a very heightened emotional state and a similar response from the parent only “fans the fire.” Then:
• Disengage physically – by moving the child into a designated room or creating some distance between you and the child.
• Disengage verbally – by not trying to reason with a child during a tantrum.
• Disengage emotionally – by remaining calm.
Your behavior after a tantrum can be just as important in preventing tantrums as it is during. Use the tantrum as an opportunity to teach the child how to put words to their feelings and label the emotions they are feeling. Give the child some positive attention after the tantrum is over, and then let it be and move on. If a parent or caregiver is having trouble preventing or properly dealing with their child’s temper tantrums, discuss the situation with the child’s doctor and they can help provide proper guidance. Cone Health has an exceptional network of primary care physicians, pediatricians, behavioral health specialists and other related health care providers dedicated to caring for children in the community during their important development years.
Kim Hoover, MD, is a psychiatrist that is board certified in child and adolescent psychiatry with Cone Health Outpatient Behavioral Health and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. Dr. Hoover completed medical school at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. She completed her residency in psychiatry at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and her fellowship in child/adolescent psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.