As a Parent Support Specialist, one of the most common concerns that I hear about are tantrums. Often irrational, unpredictable, and unpacifiable, it comes as no surprise to me that tantrums can be so concerning to parents that are simply trying their best to keep their child happy and breathing. What is a parent to do when it appears that their child is the only one crying on the floor in the grocery store, or when they seem to still throw a tantrum even when they get their way? Instead of looking at it as a lose-lose situation, or worse, thinking of it as a personal attack, we can choose to see this as an indicator of development!
Timeline of Tantrums
By 18 months, toddlers may begin to have tantrums but as the common title of "Terrible Twos" indicates, by the age of 2 or 3 is when these tantrums really start to take form. Why is this the case across so many children? The Child Mind Institute explains that there are several skills missing in a child in this age range, that makes it more difficult to think reasonably through hard moments and emotions:
- Impulse control
- Problem solving
- Delaying gratification
- Communicating wishes and needs to adults
- Knowing what's appropriate or expected in a given situation
According to Harvard's Center on the Developing Child, the "process [of learning the executive skills listed above] is a slow one that begins in infancy, continues into early adulthood, and is shaped by our experiences." With their prefrontal cortex still developing (their judgment, executive functioning center), it's no surprise that this is the case! Their desire to communicate their needs, disappointments, and desires fall short from their current abilities, making their push for any sort of communication (good or bad, whichever is reinforced) more strong.
As we see their neurological and social-emotional development flourish, parents have a great window of opportunity to teach their kiddos about their emotional well-being. Instead of falling into the cycle of rewarding bad tantrum behavior to make them stop, realize that there are other, more beneficial, ways to handle this developmental stage!
How to Help
Tantrums are hard, and parents don't need to suffer through this stage unequipped! As a Parent Support Specialist, there are a few informational resources I like to give parents who are in the thick and thin of this stage. One of them being the Child Mind Institute's Breaking Bad Behavior tips:
- Manage antecedents.
- Reinforce desired behavior.
- Teach a replacement behavior.
- Address underdeveloped skills that are at the root of a child's inability to behave appropriately.
- Respond to a student's inappropriate behavior in a way that deters it.
Another common resource I like to give parents is all about Emotion Coaching. Children are just beginning to experience their big emotions for the first time, so they need a caring parent to teach them how to best deal with those feelings:
- Be aware of emotions; tune in to your child's feelings and your own.
- Connect with your child; use emotional moments as opportunities to connect.
- Listen to you child; respect your child's feelings by taking time to listen carefully.
- Name emotions; help your child identify and name emotions.
- Find good solutions; explore solutions to problems together.
The last resource I will mention is a list of phrases a parent can use to calm an emotionally upset child. It contains 26 phrases along with reasons why to use them instead of common phrases parents already use. A couple examples are:
- Instead of: That's it, you're getting a time out! Try: Let's go to our calm down space together.
- Instead of: Stop complaining. Try: I hear you. Can you come up with a solution?
Though tantrums are not easy to manage, with this new understanding of typical child development and tools to use during this stage, I hope parents feel empowered to handle this difficult time(s) of life! Help Me Grow is here to support parents through any difficult time, whether that be through a phone conversation, reliable informational resources, or reputable community referrals. Please call us at 801-691-5322 or submit an enrollment form at our website with your question/concern, and a parent support specialist will get back to you promptly. Thanks for your trust in us!