Your toddler is rolling around on the carpet, frothing at the mouth and screaming bloody murder. Apparently, a tragedy has taken place. His orange socks are dirty. Never mind the fact that it was your toddler himself who decided to dip them in the fish tank during breakfast.
First and foremost, when dealing with toddlers, we must remember to have a sense of humor. Toddlers are emotional beings and they do not yet have the words to express all their feelings. This can lead to intense frustration and wild outbursts of emotion, often over seemingly ridiculous situations. Your toddler is not being "naughty." He is simply discharging his intense emotions in the only way he knows how.
Try not to let yourself get swept away by the situation and become angry and emotional as well. Though his behavior is out of control, your child needs you to be the calm one. This is the time to model appropriate behavior for dealing with unpleasant situations. If you yell, scream and lose control emotionally, you are only teaching your child that tantrums are the correct response when we are faced with challenging circumstances.
An effective way to deal with a child having a temper tantrum is to verbally mirror what the child is feeling. Be empathetic and understanding. Say, "I can see that you are feeling frustrated because your favorite orange socks are dirty. That must be disappointing." When your child sees that you understand his emotions, this can help him to calm down and relax.
If your child is acting out in an effort to control your behavior (think meltdown in Target because you refuse to buy him The Big Box of Fuzzoodles), the best method of response is no response. Do not become emotional. In fact, do not react at all. Simply ignore the behavior and oftentimes the tantrum will dissipate on its own when your child realizes that this is not an effective means of getting his way.
One of the best things you can do to become a better parent is to know your own child. Does he wake up cranky? Does he still need a nap at the age of five? Does he act up when in new social situations? Does he need a moment to warm up on the sidelines before you leave him at nursery school? What are the things that make him happy? What are the things that make him uncomfortable? How much sleep does he need? Do any foods affect his behavior?
Knowing your child intimately and trusting this knowledge will help you to determine how to work to provide the best environment for him to flourish. If you know that your child still needs a nap, be sure he gets one every day. And don't be surprised with a mid-afternoon tantrum if you keep him out past naptime. He's not misbehaving. He's just tired.
The same goes for taking a small child on an airplane or out to eat in a restaurant. Unless your child is marvelous at sitting for long periods of time, expect that these situations will be uncomfortable for your toddler (and yourself) and plan accordingly. Bring lots of activities, snacks and other distractions. And be ready to be compassionate when he is still wiggly, unhappy and screaming.
Though they can be extremely unpleasant and downright irritating, tantrums are a normal part of healthy toddler development. Part of the frustration with tantrums can come from the embarrassment we feel as parents when our children are "acting up" in public. And while we may still receive dirty looks from random shoppers while we haul a kicking and screaming little Billy out of Target, we have to remind ourselves that this situation is absolutely normal and not a reflection of poor parenting skills.
According to Dr. Aletha Solter, psychologist, author and internationally renowned parenting expert, "Tears and tantrums are built-in healing mechanisms that help children overcome the effects of stress and trauma. Acceptance of strong emotions is an essential ingredient in unconditional love and healthy attachment. When parents strive to accept and listen to their children's strong emotions, the children will know that they can always come to their parents with their problems, and that they will be loved no matter how sad, frightened, or angry they feel. Children brought up with this approach grow up to be cooperative, compassionate, and nonviolent."
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