Many caregivers and parents report temper tantrums as a behavior that they have difficulty coping with in a patient and positive way. Although associated with toddlers, temper tantrums are a frequent occurrence in young children, only beginning to diminish around ages five or six. And although it is a common behavior, many caregivers lack strategies for preventing and taming temper tantrums.
As with talking gestures and crying, temper tantrums are a mode of communication for the young child. Their lack of language skills may lead to a more direct way of expression; such as throwing puzzle pieces across the room. It then becomes the caregiver's task to decipher the message and address the issue. What follows is a discussion of possible causes of tamper tantrums and the messages they convey.
Even young toddlers and infants are prone to experience intense frustration. The child who is struggling to obtain a toy that is out of reach only needs to fail a few times before feelings of anger and frustration become overwhelming. The caregiver who recognizes that providing for success in young children's activities and environment, by supplying age appropriate toys and materials, can prevent much frustration and is well on the way to taming temper tantrums.
Caregivers will often see what can be referred to as mid-afternoon slump. During the late afternoon, young children can become over tired; resulting in crankiness, irritability and a decrease in their skills to handle strong emotions and conflict. Of course, it is wise to note, children can also become over tired from a lack of balance in the daily schedule, or a schedule that does not consider the needs of the child. Also children may react in a similar manner when they are over stimulated. Field trips and holidays, when the excitement level is high, there is a change in routine, and many things are vying for a child's attention are particular problems. Adhering to the routine, preparing young children in advance, keeping things simple, providing a balance between active and inactive activities, and ensuring a time for rest; these are just some ways a caregiver can prevent child from becoming over tired and over stimulated.
Appropriate caregiver interaction and response is the key to coping with temper tantrums once they occur. Frequently, a child who is in the throes of a temper tantrum is feeling out of control, both emotionally and physically. This can be frightening and overwhelming to the child, only intensifying the episode. Caregivers often add fuel to the fire by telling, or reacting in a manner that may mirror the child's actions. It is beneficial to remain calm and speak slowly and softly. Acknowledge the child's feelings and reassure them you are there to help them regain control. A caregiver may say something like," I can see you are very angry right now. I wonder if it is because you want to go outside? I can't help you when you're screaming and kicking. Let's sit down and get calm, then maybe you can tell me with words what is wrong."
Taming temper tantrums takes patience and skill, and the first step is understanding that they are a normal and expected part of children's behavior as children develop skills for coping with the disappointment and frustrations in life that we all experience.
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