Tantrum Alert: How to Cope with a Toddler’s Meltdown

Temper tantrums are a part of life for any small child—and for every parent as well. They can be embarrassing, and even frightening, but for your child’s sake, and your own sanity, you need to understand them so you can deal with them constructively.

Meltdowns can be very common in children from 1-4 years old. Kids that age are struggling for control of their environment, and their inability to express themselves with language, or physically get what they want, can lead to frustration that they’re not equipped to handle, especially if they’re tired, hungry, uncomfort­able, or feeling stressed for any reason.

Parents may not be able to head tantrums off completely, but you can keep them from turning into a pitched battle with these strategies:

  • Ignore the tantrum. If at all possible, let the child’s temper run its course without interference from you, unless there’s any danger of damage or injury to objects or to your child. The idea is to avoid feeding the tantrum with too much attention.
  • Distract the child. Try to direct the child’s attention away from whatever is contributing to the problem. Offering to read a story or play with a different toy may help your child forget about whatever’s upsetting him or her.
  • Try a time-out. Remove your child from the situation and give him or her a chance to calm down in a safe environment. Without the stimulus, the child will usually be able to settle down quickly.
  • Teach coping strategies. Talk to your child about how to deal with frustration. You might emphasize using words to explain what they want, or finding some alternative way to get what they need (by making a trade, for example).
  • Reinforce positive behavior. Take every chance you can to praise children for dealing with problems calmly and construc­tively. Let them know that anger is perfectly natural, and it’s something they can control.
  • Follow a routine. When children know what’s going on, they’re less likely to become confused or upset. Take kids on errands early in the day before they get too tired, for example. A regular routine is soothing for kids; constant change can be stressful.
  • Know what triggers to look for. Pay attention to what seems to cause a tantrum to erupt. If a certain place or activity seems to set your child off, try to avoid it, or talk about appropriate actions ahead of time.
  • Stay calm. Don’t throw your own tantrum in response to your child’s. This can make the entire experience more frightening and can extend the trauma. Be a good role model for handling anger and frustration.

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