As a busy mom of four, Nora Newman has seen her children at their best—and she’s seen them melt down.
“Meltdowns tend to happen when they are tired, they’re hungry or something happens that is out of their routine,” Nora says.
As the wife of pediatrician Dr. Ross Newman, Nora also understands that tantrums are a developmentally normal part of childhood.
“Every kid has moments where they can’t cope. That doesn’t mean that they are bad kids; it just means there’s something else that’s going on in their little brain and they cannot comprehend it.”
Anatomy of a tantrum
When you have small children, tantrums often come with the territory. They’re not pleasant for the child having the outburst or the parent on the receiving end.
“Toddlers are the perfect storm for having tantrums,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “They have a lot of frustration at that age, because they often can’t share their feelings clearly with their words.”
Types of toddler tantrums:
- Frustration tantrums: These tend to happen in the midst of learning a new skill, because a small child’s big motor skills and fine motor skills are not well developed.
- Exhaustion tantrums: These often erupt at naptime and bedtime, when a toddler is overtired and resisting sleep.
- Hunger tantrums: Like fatigue, hunger reduces anyone’s ability to cope. It’s important to note that toddlers and preschoolers eat smaller amounts and get hungry much more frequently than adults do. Offer healthy snacks in between the day’s sit-down meals.
- Transition tantrums: Little people like consistency and suddenly asking them to change their routine can be upsetting.
- Temper tantrums: These are just plain old “bad mood” tantrums and unfortunately they can be set off by the tiniest of things, like offering your child milk in the wrong color cup or cutting their sandwich into triangles when they wanted squares.
“During a tantrum, your toddler is literally having an adrenaline rush. And you probably are too,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “It’s important for moms and dads to remember that you are not going to be able to effectively teach your kid anything during a tantrum. Both of you are in that fight or flight moment of escalation.”
Taming a tantrum
In order to effectively tackle a tantrum, it’s important to acknowledge your child’s feelings.
“When your 2-year-old is losing it, say, ‘Wow, I see that you’re upset’ or ‘I see that you’re mad.’ When you say things like that, you child can start to internalize, ‘This is what mad feels like,’” says Dr. Bradshaw.
In the heat of the moment:
- Do not attempt to reason with your child; he or she is not in the correct headspace to be rational.
- While it may be tempting to give in to your child’s demands in order to restore calm, avoid bending your rules.
- Do not ignore behaviors like hitting, kicking, biting or throwing. All of these aggressive behaviors are dangerous and should never be tolerated.
- Remain consistent and calm. If you find yourself getting upset, separate yourself from your child to give both of you time to decompress.
Nora Newman says she is often able to cut her children’s tantrums off at the pass by recognizing when they more prone to a meltdown. If your child tends to lose it when they are hungry, make sure they have a snack between meals. If tantrums peak when your little one is tired, prioritize naptime—even if that means having to rearrange your schedule.
For more tips on taming tantrums, click here.
“I think it’s always good for us as parents to remind our kids that no matter how much we dislike their behavior, we love them unconditionally,” says Dr. Bradshaw. “So, when a tantrum is over, take a moment, give your kid a hug and say, ‘I’m glad that you calmed down.’”