Temper Tantrums in Small Children

How many times has your two or three year old yelled, "I hate you," or thrown herself on the ground when she didn't get what she wanted? There are two steps to help your child through this strong expression of emotion.

The first step is to help her calm down by holding or rocking her if she will allow this. If not, stay near her but allow her space and time to bring herself back to calmness. Ignoring her, traditionally suggested, often leads to escalated behavior which may include hurting things, others or self. Further, intervening after ignoring, only teaches the child to escalate to make us stop ignoring her.

I do not know why some children accept comfort with touch while others do not. Some seem to view touch as hostile, while others need that touch to soothe themselves. I do know that individual children tend to keep the same style.

After you have helped your child return to peacefulness immediately following a tantrum, it is time for step two. This involves taking the child back to the situation which started the tantrum and doing discipline or problem solving. For example, if your child refused to pick up toys, you would return her to the toys which still need to be picked up. The worst thing we can do is pick up the toys for her. This teaches a child that tantrums work, that they get you what you want. This is not a lesson we want to teach.

However, if we help her calm down and return to the situation, we teach a child two important lessons. First, I will always be there for you even when you are most lost, and I will help you learn how to calm yourself down. Second, temper tantrums simply do not work. Controlling anger nets you far more of what you want than letting anger control you. Learn to control your anger.

Again, the two steps in dealing with temper tantrums to remember are:

Help them calm down. Rock, hold, hum, give time and space. Return to the issue and discipline or problem solve.

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