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The Early Years: Responding to Tantrums

Temper tantrums can be very trying for parents, particularly when they take place in a public setting. It might be comforting for new parents to know that you are not alone. We have all been there or will be there at some point. Children, like adults, have emotions that need to be expressed. However, young children do not know how to appropriately express these feelings. That is why we often see temper tantrums. As parents, grandparents, or caregivers we need to know how to respond to these tantrums.

When a child is in the throngs of a tantrum -- screaming, yelling, and acting out - the adult's biggest responsibility is keeping the child and other children safe. If your child has a tantrum in the parking lot, move him to a safer location, such as the car. If he is throwing things, move the toys and other children away so they don't get hurt. If he is trying to hurt himself, gentle restraint may be necessary. A tantrum will need to run its course. It's Ok for a child to be upset and vent his frustrations. If the tantrum is at home, many parents walk away from the upset child, telling him that they will come back to see him when he is done crying. It's imperative that once the child has calmed himself down, that we go talk to and reassure him of our love, and move on to something different.

Children need to know the appropriate ways to express frustration. Punching a pillow, stomping their feet, getting angry in their room, are all better solutions than hitting, biting, or screaming. Tantrums occur when a child does not get something he wants. Hold your ground and regardless of how loud or angry the child becomes, DO NOT GIVE IN! He needs to know that however dramatic the behavior, you will not change your mind. If you do change your mind and give in to your child, you will have just taught him that tantrums are the way to get the things he wants!

Don't take children's tantrums personally. Learning to express emotions is a part of growing up. We need to remain calm (which is easier said than done!) and reassure them that we love them even when they are angry. Talk to your child about why he got angry and what could be done differently next time. Learn from the experience. Did your child have a tantrum right before supper or nap time? Maybe he is overtired or hungry. Thinking about the signs you saw before the tantrum can help you be proactive next time, possibly allowing you to intervene before his frustration level gets too high.

Remember that temper tantrums are not a reflection on your parenting or caregiving. They are a natural part of childhood and normal child development. Emotions need to be expressed and it is Ok to be angry. We need to teach children appropriate ways to express the anger.

Next time we will talk about making the holidays memorable and enjoyable for our kids. If you have some special family traditions, email me so we can all get some new ideas!

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Deb Archer is a licensed teacher and parent educator. She owns Kickstart Preschool in Two Harbors