Gabriel is 2 years and 3 months old and throws more and more tantrums. My wife and I do not understand why. He throws objects, yells and cries a lot. It can last anywhere between 2 and 15 minutes and can happen at least once a day. We try to calm him down as best as we can, but more often than not, the situation simply worsens. What can we do?
First off, it is important to note that tantrums are normal in a child’s development. They are especially common as of 18 months of age since it is a period linked to exploration and achievement of independence. Some kids may throw more tantrums than others for different reasons whether it is due to a tendency of asserting oneself, a low tolerance to frustration, or challenges experienced with verbal expression. Anger will then be more exteriorized: yelling, crying, hitting (with feet, head, fists or objects), biting, rolling on the ground, uncontrolled gestures, throwing objects, etc.
It is perfectly understandable that tantrums may take you by surprise and that you may feel overwhelmed by the situation. Nonetheless, be aware that several reasons could explain their occurrence in the child:
- He feels overwhelmed with emotions or needs and does not know how to express them.
- He feels upset by something he has to do but does not want to or, on the other hand, something he wants to do but is unable to.
- He feels overwhelmed with powerlessness, frustration, anger, anxiety or fear.
- He feels tired, hungry, excited or physically unfit.
- He feels upset that he cannot accomplish something he would like to do on his own.
- He cannot find the words to express himself.
- He understands that throwing tantrums gets him what he wants.
- He would like to get closer to the adult.
That being said, different interventions can be used to reduce the frequency and intensity of the tantrums:
- Name the emotion you sense in the child as well as the trigger so he may become aware of it.
- Teach your child strategies to better manage his emotions, such as deep breaths, yoga, and drawing. He will learn how to express his anger adequately instead of throwing tantrums. It can be done in fun ways with games and books or more concrete explanations.
- Give your child time and space when he is going through a more intense tantrum but remain nearby so he feels like he can count on you as well as to make sure he is safe. Ignoring the child will not allow him to improve his skills to manage his anger more adequately because he will feel even more overwhelmed.
- Empathize and listen, knowing that anger is simply a normal emotion and that the child going through a crisis is feeling overwhelmed by it.
- Foster the development of the child's self-esteem: the more the parents believe in their child's abilities, the more he feels good about himself and will be inclined to believe that his tantrums are not what defines him. Conversely, if the parents do not help create this positive image, the child will have a harder time developing his self-esteem and believing himself capable of putting in place appropriate coping strategies.
*The use of the pronoun “he” is meant to alleviate the reading of this document.
Eisenberg, N. (2012). Contrôle volontaire tempéramental (autorégulation). Retrieved from http://www.enfant-encyclopedie.com/temperament/selon-experts/controle-volontaire-temperamental-autoregulation
Naitre et grandir (2017). Crises de colère: les comprendre pour mieux intervenir. Retrieved from https://naitreetgrandir.com/fr/etape/1_3_ans/comportement/fiche.aspx?doc=ik-naitre-grandir-enfant-crise-de-colere-intervenir-prevenir&gclid=Cj0KCQjwj_XpBRCCARIsAItJiuTH1BnYMRecemLHABEI7S_MvHbK1Xwfo4rqad-DvJdHmYEj3xM5Fy0aAgn7EALw_wcB