Temper Tantrums

Who hasn’t, as a parent, experienced the knock-down, full-blown force of a child’s temper tantrum?   Your face is burning up because you and your toddler’s tantrum has now become the focus of everyone’s attention in the store.  With every eye upon you, you’re wondering if you could have prevented it.  Maybe responded a little bit differently to the constant question of “can I have a candy bar?”  A better question to ask might be why do children’s tantrums occur at all?

What is the real reason behind children and tantrum tantrums?

Newport Children’s Medical Group, your pediatricians of Orange County and Irvine, California, receives this question almost every other day from bewildered parents.  Perhaps it’s some relief to know that there isn’t a parent out there that has not experienced the ultimate “meltdown” first hand, whether it’s at the grocer, park or playground.  And it doesn’t matter how sweet or adorable or well-mannered your toddler is on any other given day.  Children and temper tantrums just seem to go together like peas and carrots.  It also seems to be a rite of passage at one time or another for every parent.  Fortunately, it’s completely normal and often stops on its own.

But it may also surprise you that there are real reasons behind toddlers temper tantrums.  Not to say that older children, and even some adults, have been known to have a meltdown or two.  But experts do find it very common in children between the ages of 1 and 4.  So to unearth some real causes, we take a look at a few bona fide reasons into children’s temper tantrums:

Toddlers have yet to master the true construction of complex sentences.  Sure, your 2- or 4- year old may have a pretty extensive vocabulary, but stringing these words together so that an adult can understand is something completely different.  It’s a real struggle to manipulate all those words into a sentence that describes what they are feeling at the moment. So instead of saying, “Could I please have the cereal in that red bowl instead of the orange bowl, because it looks too weird and funny to me,” it’s easier to break down into a temper tantrum until satisfaction is received.

Young children and toddlers live for instant gratification.  I mean, if you really think about it, a baby pretty much comes out of the womb that way. The instant they cry, we’re pretty much hard-wired to instantly respond.  So as they get older, we try to reverse this behavior to prepare them for the outside world.  Not everyone gets what they want, when they want.  Teaching acceptable behavior can quickly prompt young children into temper tantrums because it often means using the word “no.”

Toddlers temper tantrums are what happen when curiosity outweighs their physical agility.  It’s natural that toddlers want to explore the world around them.  However, their ability to physically grasp and swiftly respond is far from an athlete’s.  And to sum it all up, they seem to show no fear at their daredevil ways.  So when they’re not allowed to do as they please, climbing the bookcase; sliding down the stair railing, temper tantrums can ensue.

What to do about temper tantrums?

The premier pediatricians in the Irvine and Orange County area have a few simple tactics that can help alleviate and reduce the affects of children tantrums.   First thing to remember when your child is in the throes of a dramatic, public tantrum complete with crying, screaming and stamping of feet, is to remain calm.  It may be the most difficult thing to do at the time.  But believe it or not, it does produce results.  Reprimanding or yelling at your toddler can make things much worse.  It’s also important to remember that your child’s temper tantrum is in no way your fault, and certainly doesn’t make you a bad parent.

One tried-and-true method is to ignore children’s temper tantrums.   Tantrums can escalate if your child believes it’s the quickest way to get something they want from you.  As long as the child is safe and is not destructive, this is perfectly acceptable.   If you don’t react until the bad behavior stops, they may just give up.

Thank goodness for short attention spans.  Gentle distractions, like switching activities or pointing to something else that’s equally as interesting, can divert their attention long enough to make them stop with their outbursts.

Another tactic that can work provided the child is old enough to be left alone is to leave the room.   This is difficult to do in public, but can work at home quite well. If a temper tantrum begins, leave the room.  Chances are the child will follow you.  However, do not talk or react to the tantrum until your child is calm.

If all else fails and the temper tantrums seem to be getting worse, seek the help of a health care provider.   At Newport Children’s Medical Group, we’re the Irvine and Orange County pediatricians parents turn to first with their questions about temper tantrums.  It’s our goal to keep all our little patients and their parents happy and healthy.  While toddler and children temper tantrums seem inevitable, we’re here to help when you have questions.  Generally they do stop on their own.  But if you need us, we’re open 7 days a week including holidays and look forward to serving both our current patients and new ones as well.