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Challenging Behaviours: Tantrums

Managing tantrums can be an emotional time! We can help you get through it with confidence.

Toddler having a tantrum

Tantrums express feelings without words

Underneath the emotional outburst is a need or emotion your child is trying to make sense of and express.

  • Many parents can find tantrums stressful at times! Be kind and patient with yourself and your child
  • Kids are not born knowing how to behave – it’s our role as adults to help guide them
  • Tantrums are common for kids 2-3 years and are a normal part of development
  • Tantrums can happen when your child is feeling overwhelmed and they haven’t found other ways to express themselves

Why tantrums can happen

Here are some things that can increase the chances of a tantrum:

Struggling to express themselves fully

Learning a new and challenging skill

Experiencing overwhelming emotions

Adjusting to changes and new situations

Temperament - how strongly a child will react to situations

Feeling stressed, tired, hungry or over-stimulated

Responding to tantrums in the moment

It’s hard to keep your cool and manage your child’s tantrum when they’re screaming and crying, so it can help to have some key strategies in place. Here are a few things that can help in the moment:

  • Stay calm - Fake it till you make it! Take a moment to think about how you will respond
  • Divert and distract – Help your child focus on something else by moving to a different place, changing activities or offering them a different object
  • Acknowledge and reassure feelings – This shows that you care eg. “you dropped your toy and it’s really upsetting”
  • If your child is hurting themselves or others – You may need to move them to a safe space until they are calm
  • Be consistent - Try not to accidentally reward a tantrum by giving in to their wants
  • Talk it through - Help them understand what happened, the feelings they felt and why. This helps your child’s emotional development
  • Reward positive behaviours – Once they have calmed down and stayed calm for a little while, reward them with positive attention

Preventing tantrums

Sometimes tantrums are unavoidable! But there are ways you can minimise the stress for you and your child.

  • Tune in to your child: Consider things from your child’s perspective and what they might be trying to express
  • Make a plan: Have a plan for how you will handle situations that may trigger tantrums eg. avoiding busy times at the shops
  • Reinforce the positives: Encourage positivity with praise and attention when they behave well during stressful situations
  • Be a role model: Teach your child how to deal with their feelings through your own actions
  • Notice triggers: When stressful situations come up notice the signs of a tantrum beginning and act early
  • Consider your routine: Kids feel secure when they know what to expect so plan out their day and try to keep to a routine
  • Be flexible: Sometimes the plan won’t work and that’s ok – do what you need to on the days when it seems nothing is working

When support might be needed

If your child’s tantrums are happening more often or are more intense than usual it can be helpful to seek out more support.

  • See a Doctor or Child Health Nurse
  • Talk with a counsellor
  • Visit raisingchildren.net.au for more information
  • Talk to family and friends with kids

If you find yourself feeling lost, remember you’re not alone

Kids don’t come with a manual so parenting often involves trial and error.

This content was last reviewed 16/05/2018

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