Tantrums are extremely common in children between the ages of one and four. Although you might know this intellectually, it can be quite difficult to deal with your child screaming and yelling in the grocery store because they can’t have candy. You might be embarrassed, or fear being judged as a bad parent. While it may not be possible to prevent it, there are some ways to support your child during a tantrum.

What Is A Tantrum

A tantrum is an emotional outburst caused by emotional distress. Although It is a normal part of child development, it can be frustrating for parents. When a young child is experiencing a tantrum, they might hit, throw things, bite, scream, cry, or hold their breath. Your child might be inconsolable and might resist your attempts to comfort them. This can be hard for parents, especially if a tantrum occurs in a public setting.

Why Do Young Children Have Tantrums

Children can experience a tantrum for a variety of reasons. A tantrum is more likely to occur if your child is thirsty, tired, or hungry. It can also occur if there has been a change in their normal routine. A tantrum can be in response to an unmet desire, which a young child can see as a need. For example, your child wants a cookie and you want them to eat their dinner first. They may have a tantrum because they want the cookie now, not after dinner. Young children have a hard time regulating their emotions. They often feel overwhelmed by their feelings and lack the vocabulary to articulate their experience. Even though tantrums in young children are normal, there are things you can do as a parent to help.

1. Safety First

Young children are naturally self-centered and have great difficulty with delayed gratification. Because of this, when their desires are not immediately responded to, they could have a tantrum. As a parent, it is important to make sure that your child is safe when they are having a tantrum. You also need to make sure that everyone else is safe as well. Moving a child to a different area, taking away things they can throw, or keeping other children at a distance can help keep everyone safe until your child calms down. Reasoning with an out-of-control child seldom works. Therefore, the first step in managing your child’s tantrum is making sure everyone is safe.

2. Regulate Your Own Emotions

When your child is having a tantrum and is inconsolable, you might notice yourself feeling upset, frustrated, and a bit out of control as well. This is due to mirror neurons. Mirror neurons enable you to attune to another’s experience and reflect it back. However, getting angry or upset yourself because of the frustration experienced by your child will only escalate the situation. Instead, it is more helpful if you are able to remain calm. This way you will be able to stay in the situation to help your child understand their experience without allowing your own feelings to take over.

3. Speak Softly

One way to keep things from escalating is to lower your voice. If you try to raise your voice to the level of your child, you will need to scream. This can cause you and your child to feel even more out of control. Lowering your voice and speaking calmly yet firmly, might cause your child to lower their voice so they can hear you. While this won’t always work immediately, your child will learn over time that they can gain more control over their reactions when they speak in a calmer tone. 

4. Attune To Your Child

Another way to help your child during a tantrum is attunement. Attunement refers to being aware of and responsive to the needs of another. When you attune to your child, you respond to their subtle cues to determine what is going on for them. Attunement helps you bond with your baby and form an attachment. This enables you to notice when they might be tired, hungry, or sick. By attuning to your child, you can take steps to avoid a tantrum by addressing the needs of your child. You can also better understand what your child may be trying to communicate with their tantrum when you attune to them.

5. Name The Feeling

It is difficult for young children to discern and identify their feelings. They could also be lacking the words to express what they are experiencing. Let your child know that their feelings are okay, no matter what they are feeling. Help them name their feelings so they can begin to learn how to identify their emotions. If you can see they are sad because their friend took their toy, state this. When you validate their feelings, they can begin to process their experience. Sometimes your child just wants  to feel heard and understood. Once they believe that you get it, that might be enough for them to begin to calm down.

6. Give Them Space

If you have tried all of the above suggestions and the tantrum is continuing, give your child space. Let them know that it is okay if they need to cry and if they need your help to let you know. Maybe they just need a good cry. When they have calmed down a little, you can ask if they would like a hug. Reassure your child at this time and see if you can redirect them. A hug and a little understanding can go a long way towards helping your child feel better. 

Although tantrums are a normal way for your young child to express their frustrations, they can still be hard to deal with. Tantrums are normal and can be used to help teach your child about their feelings. Once your child is able to explain their emotions with words, their tantrums will most likely decrease. Having a parent to support them through their overwhelming feelings can help improve their emotional well-being.