What is normal?
Tantrums are a normal and expected part of a child’s development. They start happening from around 18 months, and they’re actually quite useful in terms of child development, as we’ll explain later on.
Why do children have them?
Tantrums happen when a child is feeling overwhelmed by an intense emotion that they aren’t able to process. Letting it all out by having a tantrum is the way they feel able to express how they feel.
As they get older, children do need to learn other ways that they can express their feelings in a safe way, and they need to learn to manage intense emotions. Children do gradually learn these things time goes by, but the only way to really work this out, is for them actually start having the tantrums to begin with.
- 3 ways to help with tantrums
Help the child to calm down.
When a tantrum occurs you need to help the child to physically calm down. It might help for the child to take some big breaths, or to have a cuddle, or to run off the feeling. You could also come up with a way to distract them from the moment.
Speak soothingly and help them feel that the tantrum they are having is manageable, and not a cause for alarm. A child should always feel that they are in a safe environment whenever tantrums occur, and that there is help at hand.
Help them understand what the feelings they are having are
Work with the child on exploring what their feelings are. You can do this by helping find particular words to name the particular feelings they might have, and then speaking to them to help them understand them.
Let them know you are there for them to talk to, and that you understand why they feel how they do
They should always feel comfortable that they can talk to you about how they are feeling, and you should always let them know that you are curious to hear about how they are feeling. When they do open up, reassure them that you think that the feelings they’re having are valid. Help them find different ways to express these feelings.
If they get this help from you, they will soon start to learn how to do these things themselves and move towards being able to regulate themselves.
So as you can see, it is actually pretty necessary for a child to have tantrums so they can learn how to manage them. It’s also important for children to feel safe enough to be able to express all their emotions, to learn about their feelings, and feel that they are being heard by the adults around them. Sometimes they need to have their feelings communicated back to them in a way they can understand.
- Why do tantrums happen and why is it important for you to step in with your support?
Tantrums can happen for lots of different reasons, but the underlying issue is that there is a feeling they are expressing, a ‘too big feeling’, that is unknown, unmanageable and overwhelms the child.
It could be frustration, a desire to be more independent, a scary new experience, jealousy, anger etc.
But they might also be having tantrums as a way to be seen, and to get the attention they crave.
The important thing is, that no matter how trivial the reason for the tantrum may seem to you, it is a real and important feeling to them.
It’s your role to help to moderate and contain these feelings. Whilst it’s ok for the child to feel them, it’s not pleasant for them to be overwhelmed by them, and it’s also not ok for them to act them out in a physically aggressive way. For example, whilst anger may be a completely understandable feeling for a child to have, without help it can be a very scary feeling that could lead to a child withdrawing or to being aggressive.
Children’s tantrums will reduce around the age of four. But this is not something they necessarily grow out of automatically. How we help toddlers with this behaviour is an important part of their development.
If they don’t receive any help from adults they won’t have any resolution for the difficult feelings they had that lead to the tantrums to begin with. They also may not learn the skills they need to regulate themselves.
If they do receive help from adults, eventually the tantrums should decrease, and the feelings will become less overwhelming.
- The impact of health crisis
There are numerous different ways the current health crisis will be impacting you and the children in your care. You may now be with your children for more time, or in confined spaces. The routine for you all may have changed dramatically, and children will not have been able to access outdoor spaces for play in the same way. They may also feel a loss for the friends and family members they were used to seeing (for example, at nursery or grandparents). All of this impacts our patience as adults, and the children will be confused and possibly scared.
Whilst things are so uncertain, it is important to try to continue focusing on ways you can try keep yourself in a calm state of mind. This will look different for each adult but will include also ensuring you have time to try and work out how you’re feeling. For a child, they’ll need age appropriate explanations, as much of a routine as is possible and help understanding their emotions (for example, how difficult it must be that they can’t play at the park so to create a mini indoor ‘assault course’ to burn off some energy instead).