Little People, Big Emotions - How To Support Your Child Through A Tantrum
It’s a normal Sunday morning in our house, everyone is up super early and we are now getting breakfast ready. We decide on pancakes and our typical, independent two year old says “I do it!” She begins to help and without thinking (how dare I?) I begin to whisk the eggs. You are maybe thinking - what’s the big deal? As I turn to look at my two year old she is off her stall, squirming on the floor and screaming. At first I couldn’t understand what she was screaming about, until I connected the dots……. “I was doing it!!!!” she says in a scream! I quickly reply “That’s ok - here you can do it now”. This really didn’t help, it seemed to make her worse.
If you can relate to this you will understand that anything, and I mean ANYTHING, I say from this point, while the tantrum is in full swing will be wrong. My adult brain is thinking completely rationally, "what’s the big deal? Just whisk the stupid eggs!” But unfortunately its not that simple……..why?
What is a tantrum?
Tantrums are one of the biggest behavioural challenges that parents face. A temper tantrum can happen as early as 12months old (gulp!!) to as old as 4 years old, and for a few even a bit older.
Researchers have found that tantrums can occur in 87% of 18-24 month olds, 91% of 30-36 month olds, and 59% of 42–48 month olds. This shows that it is not limited to the “terrible twos” – and is actually nearly as common in three year olds.
A tantrum is quite simply an episode of extreme frustration and anger due to the desire for parental attention and independence. It can include behaviours such as crying, screaming, flailing, hitting, kicking, biting , throwing, running and even breath holding. Wow that sounds scary! However, tantrums are a perfectly normal part of development as they learn to manage strong emotions.
Little people with big emotions
From our point of view a tantrum looks like a complete over reaction to just about anything, whisking eggs, the wrong colour plate and I’ve even seen a toddler have a huge outburst over not being at the beach in January. But from a little persons perspective….. it is a big deal …..AND they are learning to regulate and express their big emotions with their new found voice and independence. We may not necessarily see the importance of these little-big things but it is our job to support, teach and role model how to handle emotions.
So, what can we do?
How we as parents deal with tantrums has an impact on the length, frequency and how children express their emotions in the future.
Do not take it personally - This is part of learning and developing, you haven’t broken your child ‘by whisking those damn eggs!’ Your child still loves you, even if they are angry right now.
Keep calm - Not easy at all, and depending where and when the big emotions happen, it can trigger all sorts of big emotions in us.
Talk less - This is a way to avoid shouting, by keeping talking to a minimum you're less likely to raise your voice and confuse the situation.
Connect - Always have a cuddle, talk it through and move on together.
We don’t always react rationally or calmly to high emotional situations, and we have had lots of practice! There is no magic wand to eradicate tantrums, because actually we want children to know it is ok to feel.
Over the years I have found having a consistent, kind, warm and loving approach to really big emotions has made a bigger difference, rather than losing my calm, shouting, getting flustered or time outs…….after all - should making pancakes cause those big emotions in us?
Reach out HERE if you are finding it difficult dealing with tantrums, you might be finding you are in a constant cycle of battles and tantrums, making everyday life difficult, or you are struggling to support your child with big emotions and have tried many approaches.
The support I provide is individual to your child and family, gaining confidence and support of how to deal with these issues will make a big difference to family life.
Danielss E, Mandleco B, Luthy KE. Assessment, management, and prevention of childhood temper tantrums. J Am Acad Nurse Pract. 2012
Potegal M, Davidson RJ. Temper tantrums in young children 1. Behavioural composition. J Dev Behav Pediatr.2003
Potegal M, Davidson RJ. Temper tantrums in young children 2. Behavioural composition. J Dev Behav Pediatr.2003
Sisterhen LL, W.Wy P. Temper Tantrums. State pearl publishing. 2022