Q: [Toddlers/Preschool] I used to love going out into the world with my little one. These days, I’d rather go for a root canal. I feel like I am walking on eggshells because the tantrums erupt at every turn. I am tempted to just ground us all until this phase has passed!
A: When a temper tantrum strikes, especially in public, a parent’s natural response may be do whatever they can to end it. They might try negotiating or reasoning, nearly impossible with a toddler. In some cases, you might even consider bribery. However, the more you try to console and negotiate, the more it encourages the behavior down the road.
The best ways to deal with tantrums is to ignore or distract.
Throwing a tempter tantrum is a normal stage that every toddler goes through. As little people with big emotions, children at this stage are still learning to express their desires and feelings in the right way. Tantrums can be a result of vying for a parent’s attention or a protest to not getting their way. Toddlers are practical and motivated, so they experiment with ways to get what they want.
If crying works, they’ll learn to cry louder and longer when things don’t go their way. If it’s shrieking that seems to get the attention, that will become their go-to mode of communication. The more you simply ignore the tantrum, the quicker your child will realize kicking and screaming is not the way to get what they want.
Yes, at first, they may test you. They may cry harder, scream louder or flail more vigorously. Stay patient and continue to adhere to the boundaries you have set. Define the rules of your home and family, and stick to them. If you waver, that can be confusing for a child and usually leads to more outbursts.
In addition to not giving the tantrum attention, sometimes distracting your child can put an end to the screaming. You can distract with objects and even try pointing out interesting things in your environment. Be careful about diverting their attention with food because we don’t want children to become accustomed to relying on food to console them.
In addition to these methods, ensuring your child is well-rested, properly nourished and on a consistent schedule helps reduce the likelihood for a meltdown. This is good advice for parents to heed, as well. The more well-rested and nourished you are, the more patient you will be and better equipped to handle the challenges.
Christine Field, M.D., F.A.A.P., is a pediatrician with Hoag Medical Group., Corona del Mar HS grad. As a long time resident, and highly involved in the community, she understands the many factors that influence the health of the children and adolescents in this community. www.hoagmedicalgroup.com