Tantrums – Why & How?

Tantrums and meltdowns are common in preschoolers. When they happen, it can be challenging for parents to deal with, especially when parents themselves are frustrated too. The frequently-asked questions on parenting forums and Facebook group pages in relation to kids’ tantrums/meltdowns usually revolve around “How can I deal with it calmly?” or “How should I deal with it?”. Perhaps before we think about “how”, we should think about the “why”. By finding out the cause(s), we can understand our children better and become more attuned to their emotions and needs. That allows us to respond to them in the manner that aptly addresses the matter. Here are some of the possible causes for tantrums and meltdowns:

1) Temperament – Children who have quick temperament may be more likely to have tantrums.

2) Testing Limits – From birth, children learn that crying usually gets what they want (e.g. milk, to be carried, etc). When parents say “no”, tantrum is the child’s way of protesting and an attempt to push the boundaries to get what he/she wants. Power struggle begins early!

3) Physical needs – It is known that when a child is hungry, tired, stressed and/or over-stimulated, he/she gets cranky.This is because the child is still learning to be aware of and to control his/her emotions. 

4) Strong emotions – When the child encounters a relatively challenging situation (e.g. snatching toy with sibling, getting scolded in school, etc), he/she may be faced with strong emotions of worry, fear, shame and guilt. Such outbursts may not necessarily be bad as they allow the child to get negative emotions off his/her chest (rather than internalizing them which may not be good for emotional and mental health especially over time). Such experiences will also enable Preschoolers to progressively mature and learn to regulate their feelings.

How then can parents deal with tantrums/meltdowns?

1) Breathe – Refer to the breathing technique shared in previous article. This will come in very handy to calm yourself down first before getting angry and impatient. Our children can sense our emotions and feed off them. What we don’t need is more anger and tension.

2) Acknowledge – It is important to acknowledge your child’s feelings, as a way of showing love and concern. 

3) Listen/Distract – Sometimes it is best to wait it out as your child “lets it go” and listen to him/her while you are at it. Other times, it may be better to use the art of distraction to snap him/her out of the zone. 

4) Identify Triggers – Talk to your child to identify the potential trigger(s). If he/she is not talking, wait out for a better opportunity to revisit the matter when he/she is calmer and ready to share his/her innermost thoughts.

5) Address the concern – Once the trigger is identified, it is time to address it. Also, communicate with your child. Let him/her know that there are more appropriate ways to express negative emotions. Teach him/her how to handle it better the next time something similar happens again. And of course, do remember to give him/her a big hug.

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