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All about tantrums

Tantrums are by no means limited to two-year-olds, although typically this is the age when they rear their ugly heads, says Bryony Sutherland.

Your little bundle of gorgeousness is suddenly hit with a slew of new emotions, which she is unable to comprehend or communicate. The feeling of utter helplessness over even basic aspects of her life can be suddenly overwhelming and spill over into a corker of a tantrum over the slightest little thing.

The good news is it’s usually a passing phase and as your child matures, so will her coping mechanisms and degree of self-expression. So as you gaze down at your puce-faced sproglet turning outraged cartwheels on the supermarket floor, while old biddies tut and shake their heads and the kinder shoppers raise their eyebrows in sympathy, take heart. It’s not forever.

In the meantime, here are some suggestions on dealing with the inevitable.

6 WAYS TO DEAL WITH TANTRUMS

Do not negotiate

On all aspects of parenting you need to establish your authority early on. Sometimes this means being the ‘bad guy’. Never, ever allow your resolve to be shaken by a tantrum; it only sends out the very clear message that mom is an easy target. Establish your rules and stick to them, even if the tantrum takes place in public.

Bribery and corruption

Many parenting experts would disagree, but I find nothing wrong with encouraging your child to behave well with a little treat here and there. It rather reflects life: diligent students will be rewarded with good grades and university places, and conscientious workers are often eligible for a bonus or other career-enhancing accolade. The prize doesn’t need to be a sweetie – often stickers, a trip to the park or an extra ten minutes story time before bed work just as well. However make sure to remove the treat if your little tantrum thrower doesn’t play ball.

Hand over occasional control

In the minor areas of your toddler’s life, consider handing over the reins. So what if she wants to wear short sleeves when there’s a distinct breeze in the air? Allow her to learn the chilly consequences of her actions for herself (and stow away a warm cardie in your handbag for emergencies). If you gradually allow your toddler increasing control over her life within safe limits (would she prefer cheese or ham in her sandwiches, a plait or a ponytail in her hair), then her growing sense of self will be rewarded with invaluable acknowledgement by the most important figure in her life: you.

Be aware of external influences

Keep an eye on when your tot explodes and note what tends to set her off. If the common factor is that she’s hungry, make sure she doesn’t get to screaming status by keeping her topped up with healthy snacks throughout the day. If she is pushed off-kilter by surprises, give her plenty of warning about events that will occur, including a running countdown (‘Five minutes until we need to go to granny’s house, so it’s time to go and find your shoes!’). If she is jealous about the attention received by a new sibling, make sure to schedule in some special one-to-one time just for her.

Take time out

If it all gets too much to bear or you are worried that you are going to snap, walk away from your child (ensuring first they are in safe surroundings) and take a few minutes to yourself in another area of the house. You will both benefit from a little breather and the shock of your walking away might demonstrate to your child that her behaviour can have unwanted consequences. Also use space between you in the form of ‘time outs’ for your child on the naughty step or other designated area.

Talk to your child about tantrums when she is calm
Tantrums can be just as alarming for the child as for the parent, and the feeling of being out of control emotionally can be very frightening. Try explaining to your toddler how to overcome her frustration and use words rather than actions or outbursts to express herself.

There are a number of good books that resonate with children of this age, and it can really help to empathise with a fictional character and see how they deal with their feelings. Try Tessa Tiger’s Temper Tantrums by Barbara deRubertis, Chocolate Covered Cookie Tantrum by Deborah Blumenthal or Tiger and the Temper Tantrum by Vivian French.

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