The “terrible two’s” can be aptly named when your child dissolves into tears over seemingly trivial things.
The dreaded temper tantrum can be embarrassing and frustrating, especially when your child decides he wants something in public, at the grocery store, shopping mall or playground.
Understanding why children have such meltdowns and then avoiding the triggers is key, says Shannon Speller, a child development specialist at the East Wake Education Foundation, who offered advice last week to parents and guardians using resources from Mayo Clinic.
Finding the source
Emotional upsets often happen because of miscommunication.
“How much vocabulary does your kid have?” Speller asked. Often, the toddler will become frustrated because he knows what he wants to say but cannot adequately communicate the desire to the adult.
Two other factors are worth considering. Young children are heavily affected by hunger, thirst or exhaustion, shortening their tantrum fuse. In addition, most toddlers consider any want they have to be a need, Speller said.
There’s no such thing as wants in a toddler’s understanding. Everything is a need.
Sharon Beavers, grandmother of two young children, agreed, joking that her grandson’s first word was “mine.”
As their understanding, rationality and vocabulary grow with age, tantrums will become fewer. If they don’t, Mayo Clinic suggests they may have learned to continue the meltdowns if parents are rewarding the behavior by giving in to their wants.
Avoiding the triggers
Speller offered parents a few tips to deftly diffuse tantrums.
First, she said, acknowledge that the child is frustrated.
Next, try distraction. Redirect the child toward another toy, a snack or activity. Be silly – try singing a goofy song before the tears come at bath time or distract them into losing focus on their current frustration.
Mayo Clinic suggests consistency, encouraging your child to use words and pointing them toward making either-or choices, all while affirming positive behavior.
Finally, planning ahead, leaving extra time and evaluating the priority of the current activity will help determine the parent’s decision-making, Speller said.
Hurrying to get somewhere or get through an activity can stress out both parents and children.
“Is it that important that it happens right now?” she suggests parents ask themselves. “Is it that important to go to Walmart right now, or can we go after a nap?”
Mayo Clinic encourages parents to know tantrum triggers, such as certain goodies at the store, particular toys at home, or waiting at restaurants. Come up with creative solutions.
Keep a toolkit in the car, with CDs, DVDs, books or snacks, Speller said.
Parents should focus on keeping their cool at all times.
“If you’re throwing a fit because they’re having a fit, it’s not going to help the situation,” she said.