A Primer on Tantrums

Tantrums are a normal part of child development. Although they typically begin at age two, it is not uncommon for children to start having tantrums as early at 18 months. The standard advice for dealing with tantrums is to ignore the child until the behavior stops. This teaches the child that tantrums are not an effective way to solve problems. Ignoring tantrums also gives the child the opportunity to learn self-control.

Although tantrums appear to come “out of the blue,” most are triggered by predictable interactions between the child and her environment. The following acronym may help parents head off tantrums before they begin: FACT.

Frustration: Toddlers become frustrated numerous times during the day. The most common triggers are not getting their way, having difficulty completing a task, or not being able to communicate due to immature language skills.

Appetite (hunger): Young children are often unaware of their body’s hunger cues and may have a “meltdown” simply because they need a snack.

Choice: Young children may have difficulty transitioning from one activity to the next and are frequently held captive to other people’s schedules, i.e., they are asked to get dressed, eat meals, or leave the house with little say in the matter. Parents can prevent problems by giving children a couple of warnings before transitions occur and by offering choices whenever possible. For example, if your child does not want to get dressed, you may be able to avoid a struggle by saying, “Do you want to wear your green socks or your red socks?”

Tired: Tantrums are often triggered because a child needs a nap, did not get enough sleep the night before, or because he is tired due to an illness. If you see this behavior, comfort your child or encourage him to take a nap.

I frequently recommend the book “1-2-3 Magic” by Thomas Phelan. It is an excellent resource on discipline for children 2 to 12 years of age.

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