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How to deal with temper tantrums - survival guide

Temper tantrums are those challenging outbursts that can leave parents feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Rest assured, they’re completely normal and all parents deal with them at some point. But how can you reduce and even sometimes prevent temper tantrums from happening? In this blog post we'll explore why kids experience these emotional surges and how understanding their developing brains can help you manage and reduce them in the future. 

Why do kids have temper tantrums?

The most basic explanation for why kids act out is communication challenges. Children 3 years and under tend to lack developed communication skills, leading to frustration when they can't express their needs and emotions with words. Tantrums often serve as a way for them to communicate their distress when they don’t have any other way. 

Lack of emotional regulation and impulse control are also causes of temper tantrums. The prefrontal cortex, responsible for emotional regulation and impulse control, is still developing in young children. This means they sometimes struggle to manage their emotions, resulting in tantrums when overwhelmed. Remember that for a kid, it’s easy to get overwhelmed because they’re constantly learning new things. They’re experiencing new parts of life for the very first time, but don’t always have the tools to make sense of how this makes them feel. 

Of course, tantrums can also stem from a child's frustration when they don’t get their way. For example, when your kid is immersed in a TV show and you tell them it’s bedtime, sometimes they don’t want to stop watching and get frustrated. We’ve all been there. If your kid is tired, seeking independence, or simply doesn't see the logic in why they have to go to sleep, a tantrum may be on the horizon. Parents of toddlers are no stranger to the tell-tale signs of an imminent outburst. But no matter how your child reacts, the good news is there are several ways you can try and gently diffuse their emotions. 

Handling tantrums in toddlers

It’s important to reiterate that temper tantrums are completely normal in developing toddlers. Allow yourself the acknowledgement that these emotional outbursts can be challenging and you are doing your best. Now, here’s what child psychologists recommend for how to deal with tantrums effectively. 

Offering a distraction is said to be one of the most effective ways to minimize and even counteract a bad reaction. For example, you can set up the beginning of a play area for your toddler to complete when you sense an outburst taking form, and say something like, “Can you help me finish building this lego tower?” This will distract your toddler from a possible temper tantrum and immediately pique their interest in another activity. This is a good opportunity to get creative with their interests. If you're lucky, your toddler might forget what they were upset about completely.

Set prior expectations during times you anticipate a tantrum. Psychologists recommend starting small and building from there. For example, to reduce tantrums in public settings like  restaurants, you can communicate to your child in advance that there’s a time and a place for certain behaviors, like: ‘Inside voices and outside voices.’ When you give children the option to function within a boundary, they are more likely to respond positively. You’re not saying they’re not allowed to yell at all, simply only when they’re outside. 

Respond with empathy and communication. Ask your child to use their words to tell you what they need. Understanding the reasons behind the tantrum allows parents to empathize, helping children feel heard and validated. It’s also important to remain calm no matter how frustrated you feel. Children learn by example, so modeling positive behavior and coping strategies can empower them to handle emotions in healthier ways. Of course, this is much easier said than done. During especially frustrating moments, remind yourself that what you do has an impact on their behavior and do your best to stay strong.

Remember, every tantrum is an opportunity for learning and growth, both for children and parents alike. Embrace the journey, be forgiving with yourself, and remind yourself that there are endless creative ways to parent. If you lead with understanding, compassion, and patience, you will be just fine. 

At Doona, we know how exhausting dealing with tantrums can be. And that’s why we’re always trying our very best to make parenting easier for every family. Which is also why we’ve created our innovative and revolutionary Doona Car Seat & Stroller which transforms from a car seat to a stroller in the click of a button; and Liki Trike — the most compact folding toddler trike on the market that grows alongside toddlers with four modes of use. 

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