Temper Tantrums (cont.)

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How should parents handle temper tantrums in toddlers?

Over the years, parents and psychologists have developed a series of suggestions to help deal with temper tantrums. These include

  • Don't get sucked into the emotion of the situation. Remain calm and unemotional. If possible (for example, at home) tell the child you can't understand him when he behaves that way and leave the area. Inform him that when he calms down you will talk with him about what he wants. Feeding into the situation by trying to deal with the out of control child reinforces the behavior.
  • Try to distract or redirect the child. Many parents observe that this strategy works better in the young toddler; the older child is less likely to be "bought off."
  • Discipline should be promptly applied, brief, proportionate to the "crime," and rendered without emotion by the parent. The classic recommendation for "time-out" of one minute per year of age has well stood the test of time. A quick verbal explanation of the infraction is reasonable ("You are going into time-out because you kept pinching your brother. We don't pinch. Pinching hurts.")
  • Realize that temper tantrums are a way a child is testing your limits in addition to a way of venting frustration. If he discovers that he is more likely to succeed in a certain setting (such as at grocery-store checkout line), he will persevere in this location. Parents may be very frustrated by their toddler's temper tantrums in a public venue; take heart in the fact that almost all the other adults have similarly been the recipient of their child's wrath in a public locale.

Should children be punished for having temper tantrums?

Temper tantrums in 2- to 4-year-old children are considered an essential part of normal child development. By the time they are less frequent, children have substantially increased their expressive verbal skills. In addition, they have developed alternative and more successful techniques for achieving their goal. Such maturation requires that parents provide proper role modeling for their toddler. Therefore, it is important to note that parents who lack effective anger- and conflict-management skills often provide the opposite. Yelling and screaming, throwing objects, and physical violence will both terrify a child and serve as an object lesson of how powerful people handle frustration.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/16/2014

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