Only parents who have been through at least one of their children’s tantrums know how difficult one can be to manage, how strenuous it can feel and how helpless a parent feels when he can’t stop his child’s crying fit.

Tantrums are normal and most children go through them, especially between the ages of 2 and 5, and that is why it is important for parents to be aware of their existence and to be prepared for them. For kids, it may take less than 5 minutes to go from calm to drama. A simple “no” leads to crying, yelling, kicking, rolling on the floor, throwing toys and any other objects at hand.

You may have a warm, solid relationship with your child, and the child may be usually cheerful and understanding, but that doesn’t mean he won’t change from one second to the next, turning into a little monster. Which is when you end up looking like one of those cartoon characters that have a tiny black cloud of rain following him, while everywhere else around is sunny.

 Why do children throw tantrums?

Starting with the age of two, your child turns into a tiny brave explorer of the small universe around him, and at this stage he usually starts testing your limits as well. This developmental phase is also draining for him, emotionally and psychologically. On one hand, the child wants to be independent, to do things on his own. On the other, he still wants to feel protected.

Maybe you’ve never looked at things this way, but you should know that this stage creates a lot of tension for your child. He doesn’t quite grasp limits, he can’t distinguish between desire and reality, he’s not aware of the dangers around him. And when you try to protect him and don’t allow him to do something dangerous, you’re just giving him the perfect excuse for a tantrum.

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The first time your kid throws a fit, because you stopped him from doing something or interrupted an activity he enjoyed, you may feel annoyed, upset, frustrated, or even embarrassed (if you’re in public). You may ask yourself what you did wrong, where did you fail and what horrible mistake did you make in his education.

You need to calm down. Even if your kid throws a tantrum, that’s not a sign of an emotional imbalance. All kids have occasional peaks in stubbornness that generate angry, crying fits.

And if the parent successfully manages these, their frequency and intensity will drop by the time the child turns 4 or 5.

What a tantrum looks like

It’s not hard to “diagnose” a tantrum. Kids kick, scream until they turn red and run out of air, throw toys, roll on the floor and kick it with their hands and legs, hit those around them, yell and you feel like there’s a wall around them that won’t allow any of your soothing words to reach them.

Usually, these tantrums last for a few minutes. But there are kids who throw fits for as long as a half an hour, or even an hour. These episodes are extremely difficult both for you, as a parent, and for the child, and it’s hard to imagine in what state this anger can put you, if you’re not prepared.

What you mustn’t forget is that your child isn’t doing this on purpose, just to make you mad. It’s his way of reacting to your saying “no”. As an adult, you’ve learned how to control your strong emotions, but the child doesn’t have the experience necessary to properly manage frustration or discontent. Where he is, is of no importance to him, neither are any arguments or explanations. When we’re talking about a tantrum, we must remember that what we’re witnessing is a set of negative feelings and tensions that aren’t properly managed, because the child hasn’t learned how to do that yet. And, at the same time, the child doesn’t understand the concept of “future”. All that matters to him is the here and the now. Starting with the age of two, kids eventually learn that there are limits, which they sometimes have to give up, or to choose between two things, to make decisions that involve compromise.

How to know when a tantrum is about to happen

Such fits usually happen when your child is already testy. If your child is already sensitive and crusty, and the extra attention or playtime he gets won’t change his disposition, than you may very well expect such an episode.

A tantrum can also happen when your child is tired, hungry or is feeling alone – in which case the fit is a cry for attention.

How a tantrum starts

The first sign: he starts whining, complaining, and asking for things he knows he won’t get.

Your arguments and your attempts at distracting him don’t make any difference. Then he starts crying, louder and louder, he’s inconsolable. He turns red and cries until he’s run out of breath. And things get even more intense, while his anger is being released. He rolls on the floor, he screams, he kicks with his arms and legs, he throws toys. Some kids, 3-4 year old, can hold their breath until they turn purple. And in exceptional cases, there are children who faint.

And as a parent you experience every emotion in the realm of helplessness, frustration, anger and panic (in case of an extreme fit, when the child ends up feeling sick).

Did you know that most tantrums only take place when parents are around?

Don’t be surprised if you have a well-behaved child in kindergarten, or when he’s with the sitter, and who only throws fits when he’s with you.

Children’s stubbornness has the purpose of testing limits, and this behavior is more likely to occur in your presence, than with a stranger or with someone he’s not so familiar to.

It’s ironic, but tantrums are a sign that your child trusts and is deeply attached to the adult who’s usually a witness to them, according to the American Pediatric Academy. Because these fits are a way of releasing negative energy and they usually exhaust the child. And most of the time, he’ll end up falling asleep after it’s passed. And he will wake up calm and cheerful, without even remembering the fit he’s just thrown.

How to prevent a tantrum

Here are the best ways you can try to prevent a tantrum:

Patience. That’s your secret weapon. Kids need understanding and support at all ages, but these are especially important at this hysterical age. Don’t feel defeated and frustrated and, most importantly, don’t react just like him – with anger and negative emotions.

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You can’t prevent every tantrum. You must know you won’t win every battle. But each and every one of these fits will bring you closer to the end of their era, if you know how to manage them. In time, you will see that their intensity drops, as well as their duration and frequency.

Avoid situations that cause anxiety, over-stimulation and exhaustion. Tantrums usually happen when the child is tired or hungry. So if you don’t allow him to end up feeling like that, then he won’t throw fits as often.

Too many interdictions make way to tantrums. Be careful not to make your child more frustrated than necessary. If you teach him how to compromise, to give up certain things, than how is it that you can’t do the same and you demand 100% obedience? Parents must learn how to compromise as well as their children and to be flexible. If you go to the park, don’t dress him in his best clothes. That way, getting dirty won’t be an issue, and you won’t be limiting his play with too many rules that are only meant to serve you (to reduce cleaning and washing).

Choose your limits carefully. It’s impossible to keep your child completely away from the kitchen. Just accept the fact that he’ll be playing with your pots and pans and that he’ll make noise. So instead of forbidding him to play with anything in the kitchen, offer him a space of how own. His own drawer that he’s knows he’s always allowed to look through, with pots, wooden spoons, or plastic casseroles. These won’t harm him, and it’s the perfect compromise.

And so what if you go to the park with different colored shoes? Just save limitations for situations where the child is in danger or that threaten him. During the rest of the time, just go along with unconventional situations, be flexible and relaxed.

Allow your child to learn from you. He will copy you in all things. When you’re cleaning, he will want to mop the floor as well and will stick his hands in the water bucket. So, if he wants to participate, and he definitely will, offer him the right tools:

  • a small mop, which he can follow you with
  • a clean cloth, which he can use to wipe the mirror or any other surface of his height
  • a tiny pulverizing bottle with water, so that he can pretend to wipe the mirror
  • a special chair where he can sit next to you, when you need to work on the kitchen counter.

Be prepared to hear the word “NO”.  Every child will test his limits and will always try to get more than he’s being offered. It wouldn’t be right if he never tried to challenge you, if he never had the curiosity to explore, if he were always obedient of indifferent. Maybe he won’t always want to change from his pajamas before breakfast. The alternatives you offer him must be reasonable and must not encourage some other type of undesirable behavior.

Let your intentions be known. Maybe you’re aware of the fact that you need to leave the park at 1 pm and have lunch at 1.40 pm, so that you can be down for your nap at 2.30. But the child knows nothing about your plans or agenda. Let him know that you need to leave the park about 15 minutes before you actually have to. Don’t let him be unprepared for what’s next.

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