Tantrums can be an uncomfortable thing for both parents and for their children. We often feel like failures as parents when our child has a tantrum, especially in public, and can get embarrassed about our perceived lack of ability to control our child’s behavior. But you can put your mind at ease because your child’s tantrums are not the result of some lack of parenting skill, and they aren’t a sign that your child does not know how to “behave” or “control themselves”.
There are many things that can contribute to a child having a tantrum. These include:
- Level of maturity
- Lack of connection to their caregiver
Let us dive deeper into how these things can cause your child to turn into a tiny angry T-Rex.
I think, even as adults, we can clearly see how being hungry – or HANGRY – can affect our moods. But what causes this to happen? Our blood sugar levels dip when we have gone too long between meals. This dip in blood sugar sends a message to our brain that tells us to eat more. But it can also make us irritable, irrational, depressed and anxious. As adults, we are better able to regulate our food intake and we know when we are hungry and can get ourselves a snack or begin preparing our next meal.
Our children’s food intake is controlled by us; we make their meals and snacks and decide what eating schedule to follow. Toddlers are not always good at eating balanced meals and pickiness is common among children in this age group. This can mean that they will sometimes experience fluctuations in their blood sugar that can greatly affect their moods.
We all become a little grouchy when we are tired. Children are not good regulators of their own sleep needs. This can lead to tantrums at key times during the day. Do you notice that your child has more tantrums at the end of the day, say after 3 pm? This is a common time for tantrums because the child is tired from an exciting day, or maybe they missed a nap because of a scheduled appointment or activity.
Tiredness can make children unable to handle emotions that would normally not affect them if they had adequate sleep.
Level of Maturity
Toddlers and children have not yet mastered the art of controlling their emotions. Yes! Controlling your emotions is a skill that needs to be learned! It’s not something that we are born knowing, and it’s not something that even adults have fully mastered. But toddlers and children are even less equipped to deal with unpleasant emotions that we adults are.
It takes time and practice to be able to become aware of our own feelings and then know how to deal with them. These skills need to be shown to children by our example and also with our continued patients in helping them to navigate through their unpleasant emotions.
A child cannot be scolded into emotional maturity; they need to be guided instead. There are many phases of emotional maturity; age three when they learn that they have more independence, age seven when they are learning that they have more complex emotions and can feel more than one thing at the same time, and there are a few more emotional changes that happen in the later years.
Everything in the world is new to a child. It’s often their first time seeing something, hearing something, going somewhere or doing something. Even if the child has had more than one experience with something it can still be overwhelming.
Children are also bombarded with images and screens, and radio and traffic can even be too much for a young child to process if they aren’t given a break to decompress.
Lack of Connection to Their Caregiver
Having a solid connection to the child’s primary caregiver(s) is crucial for a child to feel secure and able to face the world around them. They need to feel like they have a safe place to go to when the world becomes too much. Children who lack a solid connection to a caregiver often have emotional outbursts because they do not feel like they have a safe person to go to express their feelings.
Having a solid relationship with your child begins at birth.
How to Nip Tantrums in the Bud
There is a quick checklist that you can go through when your child is having a tantrum that can help you decipher why they are having trouble controlling their emotions.
- Are they hungry?
- Are they reaching a new emotional maturity milestone?
- Have they had too much stimulation that day?
- Do they need some one-on-one time with their primary caregiver(s)?
All of these things can greatly affect how a child is able to cope with unpleasant emotions. The next time you are faced with a child having a tantrum go through the checklist to see if there is something you can change right away. Offer the child a snack if it had been a long time since their last meal, maybe it’s time for a nap, quiet time, or bedtime, help them to sort through new emotions they might be feeling from an understanding viewpoint, go for a relaxing walk outside in a quiet forested area and let the fresh air and natural sounds calm them, and carve out more one-on-one time at points throughout the day to fill up their love cup.
A child’s tantrum is a cry for help and is never a tactic to manipulate you as a parent. Meet their cry for help with the help and compassion they need and the tantrum should go away soon. Experiencing big emotions is how the child will learn to deal with them on their own, so helping them navigate through them rather than squashing them is the key.
Do you feel like your child’s tantrums are a reflection on your parenting ability? Have you ever felt embarrassed in public by your child’s emotional outburst?