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Understanding Your Child’s Tantrums

Tantrums are a normal aspect of early childhood development and often stop as your child gets older. However, as they’re happening, tantrums can make parents and caregivers feel powerless and unsure of how to help. These are some reasons that tantrums happen in early childhood, and some things you can do to help.

Why do childhood tantrums happen?

  1. At a child’s young age, their prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed. This area of the brain is associated with self-control, and stress can overwhelm this underdeveloped part of the brain and make it difficult for a child to regulate their emotions.

  2. Tantrums are most common at an age when children cannot yet express their feelings in words. Not being understood or able to communicate is very frustrating, and they can become overwhelmed.

  3. Sometimes, children can inadvertently learn that having a tantrum achieves their desired goal. While it may seem that a child is having a tantrum on purpose, this is rarely the case.

Some of the most common reasons for tantrums in early childhood are:

  1. Anxiety

  2. Hunger

  3. Tiredness

  4. Feeling uncomfortable

  5. Sensory processing issues

  6. A desire for independence

How to to help your child deal with tantrums

  1. Remain calm and compassionate. Even if you are getting frustrated, make sure your child knows you care for them and are there to help them and keep them safe.

  2. Understand specific tantrum triggers. Children often have specific scenarios that can lead to tantrums, such as a trip with you to the grocery store that overlaps with their nap time.

  3. Praise positive behavior. When you catch your child something positive in their daily life, such as taking turns or clearing away their toys, reinforce this behavior with praise.

  4. Give your child control over small things. Letting your child make independent decisions in a controlled environment can satisfy their need for independence. For example, you can ask them to choose between two things for their lunch, or let them pick a song to listen to in the car.

  5. Try distraction or diversion. A tantrum can sometimes be avoided by diverting your child’s attention or moving them away at the right moment, before they become overwhelmed. If a tantrum happens, resist the urge to give in and inadvertently reinforce the behavior.

  6. Discuss your child’s feelings and practice coping strategies. If a tantrum happens, wait until your child is calm, and have an empathetic, two-way conversation about it. Ask them how they were feeling, and listen without judgement. Then, you can both figure out what to do next time. You can also help them practice self-soothing strategies, such as leaving the room, singing their favorite song, or taking a few deep breaths.

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