Understanding Toddler Behaviour

As your child gets older, they will begin to want to do more however they are often limited by their abilities to achieve these feats or communicate what they need from you to help them. This can be very frustrating for them and can manifest as outbursts of emotion or tantrums. These are common for children aged 1-3 as they are still learning to self-regulate. While it can be very confronting as a parent to witness a tantrum, it is important to remember that your child is still developing the skills needed to appropriately convey how they are feeling. If they are not harming themselves or others, rather than trying to stifle these emotions, let your child express themselves.

What are the common causes of a tantrum?

Between the ages of 1-3, a child is still developing their social and emotional skills which is why tantrums are so common. As they often do not yet have the words to express the way they are feeling, tantrums often become how they navigate these emotions and try to understand or change what is going on around them. Here are some of the things that make tantrums more likely to occur:

  1. Strong emotions like worry, fear, shame and anger,
  2. Stress, hunger, tiredness and overstimulation – these can make it harder for a child to express their emotions and thus a tantrum is more likely,
  3. Temperament – your child’s temperament can determine how the respond to any of the above situations. If they are a child who gets easily upset, any of the above situations can make a tantrum more likely.

How can you reduce the chance of a tantrum?

While it is not likely that you will be able to avoid all tantrums there are things that you can do to help reduce them. Some of these things are:

  1. Reduce stress – tired, hungry and overstimulated children are more likely to have a tantrum
  2. Tune into your child’s feelings – over time you will begin to learn when big emotions are on the way and how your child might react in certain situations. You can try to mitigate tantrums by talking to your child about what is going on and help them manage any difficult feelings. You may also be able to distract your child avoiding the tantrum altogether.
  3. Over time you will also notice tantrum triggers in your child. Learning these will help you to avoid these situations in future or even have a plan in place to help reduce the likelihood of a tantrum occurring.

How should you respond?

Your child is constantly looking to those around them to determine how the world works which is why it is important that when a child has a tantrum that they be met with a calm and loving response. Some of the techniques you can use to deal with a tantrum are:

  1. Stay calm or at least pretend to! This can be hard so take a moment to yourself if you need to. When you speak, keep your voice calm and level.
  2. Acknowledge their feelings – empathising with your child can prevent the behaviour from getting more out of control and gives your child the change to reset their emotions
  3. Wait it out – Stay close to your child so they know that you are there but do not try and reason with them, just let them express themselves.
  4. Take charge if you need to – Use your judgement here if your child is putting themselves or others at risk you may need to intervene.
  5. Be consistent and calm with your approach in dealing with tantrums.

While it can be stressful and draining dealing with tantrums it is important to stay calm and keep things in perspective. You cannot control your child’s emotions or behaviours, but you can help to guide them and shape their environments so that tantrums are less likely.

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