Dr C P Ravikumar

Temper Tantrums: How To Handle Them

It is an unpleasant disruptive behaviour or emotional outbursts in children especially toddlers ( between the age of 12-18 months) that occur in response to their unmet or unfulfilled needs. It occurs because children cannot express their needs or control their emotions when frustrated. It includes yelling, biting, crying, kicking, hitting, pushing, throwing objects, head-banging and breath-holding. These are normal and are a part of a child’s development. They happen as a child learns to become more independent and want control over their environment — more than they can handle. When does temper tantrums start? It begins in children 12-18 months old, get worse at the age of 2-3 years when language skills are starting to develop and they can’t yet say what they want, feel, or need and then gradually subsides by the age of 4-5 years when the child starts going to school and learns to control his negativity. They are seen in both girls and boys but are slightly more common in boys. Tantrums usually last between 2 to 20-25 minutes. Violent tantrums that last longer than 25 minutes may be a sign of a more serious problem. Usually, it occurs once a day. What are the causes of temper tantrums?  
  • Root cause- need of attention
  • Frustration 
  • Demanding something (such as a treat or toy)
  • Don’t listen and follow parent’s commands like leaving the park or cleaning up
  • Inability to assert autonomy
  • Inability to perform a complex task on his own
  • Hunger
  • Tiredness
  • Faulty parental attitude 
  • Sibling rivalry 
 

What are the signs of temper tantrums?

These can be verbal, physical or both.  
  • Whine, cry and shout
  • Kick, hit, bite and pinch
  • Flail arms and legs
  • Lying on ground 
  • Head banging
  • Stamping feet 
  • Throwing things 
  • Fake fits
  • Hold their breath
  • Tense their body or go limp
How to manage temper tantrums?  
  • Find a distraction: At an early stage when the tantrum has just started but hasn’t become a full-blown outburst, distracting attention from the immediate cause and changing the environment can abort the tantrum, like indulge them in something interesting or engage them in an activity.
  • Stay calm: During a tantrum, the parent’s behaviour should be calm, firm and consistent. In the middle of tantrums avoid threatening and arguing with them. Doing so only makes the tantrum worse. Later, when your child is quiet and calm, talk to them about their earlier behaviour.
  • Ignore the tantrum: Actively ignore the behaviour by turning your eye gaze away from the child, engaging in some different activity, and not speaking or interacting with the child. This will help him to know that this behaviour is unacceptable.
  • Keep them insight to keep them safe This is important so that their child does not hurt himself or anyone else. Remove any dangerous objects near them. If he is completely out of control, bring them to a safe space until they calm down. A ‘time-out’, i.e. asking the child to stay alone in a safe and quiet place for a few minutes, can be helpful.
  • Avoid hit, bite or kick back: You may think this teaches them that these actions hurt. But instead, the child learns this is acceptable behaviour because a parent is doing it. So the parents should make it clear that they’re doing something hurtful, which is not acceptable.
 

What should be done after the temper tantrum?

Once the tantrum is over, engage the child in conversation about what happened and also discuss how they can stop tantrums from happening again.   
  • Offer praise for calming down:  As soon as the child stops the tantrum, give a specific praise for stopping the behaviour. Reinforce the child’s positive behaviour and good choices. Children like recognition for good behaviour.
  • Teach your child to label emotions and handle strong emotions: Children often don’t have the vocabulary they need to express or describe their frustration, jealousy, anger or disappointment. Tantrums are how they express their feelings. Therefore, parents should teach them the words that can help to express themselves. Parents should help them in dealing with their problems without getting upset. 
  • Set a good example: Children look up to their parents and learn from their behaviour.
 

How can I prevent a temper tantrum?

We most likely won’t be able to create a tantrum-free environment as tantrums are a natural part of the environment of a child. But we can take precautions to reduce the frequency and severity of tantrums:  
  • Proper food and sleep: Sometimes, irritability can lead to tantrums. This behaviour may come from a lack of proper nutrition and sleep. Make sure your child eats a balanced diet and sleeps properly.
  • Give choices:  Providing options whenever possible, between two shirts or two food options, etc., can also be helpful. Being able to choose between things helps your child feel in control. 
  • Prepare for transitions: Periods of transition, such as leaving the playground or a toy store can be difficult for children. Try to prepare them in advance by giving them a transitional warning, this will prepare them for the change and avoid a tantrum.
 
Dr C P Ravikumar

Dr C P Ravikumar

CONSULTANT – PEDIATRIC NEUROLOGY
Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore