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April 20, 2024

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Taming Tantrums

Whether at home or in public, few things are as nerve racking as your young child's meltdown. Local experts offer solutions on tantrums.

It can be one of your worst parenting nightmares when your kids are little, especially when it happens in public … and it’s inevitable. The tantrum. You can count on your child having a meltdown and throwing a fit in toddlerhood on into the preschool years. When it comes to taming tantrums, it’s helpful to understand the two different types and how to handle them.

“All toddlers and preschool-age children throw tantrums,” says Matthew L. Perkins, M.D., FAAP, FACP, of Tennessee Medicine and Pediatrics in Smyrna. “In fact, tantrums are an important part of the developmental stage which helps lead a child to increased independence,” he adds. “In order to understand your child’s tantrum, put yourself in his place. A young child has opinions, desires and fears just like we do — he just lacks the verbal skills to express his frustrations. Be aware, however, that tantrums come in two main types: frustration tantrums and manipulative tantrums.” Perkins suggests these tips on handling both types:

Frustration tantrums: Identify the trigger. Try to help out with the trigger or offer a distraction or alternative, use soothing body language and speech to lower the toddler’s frustration level and plan ahead — take toys with you to the supermarket, a snack with you while at the doctor’s office, and try to shop and run other errands when you are both rested. Don’t take it personally.

Manipulative tantrums: Ignore the behavior, walk away, use verbal cues and body language that show your child that you don’t engage in tantrums and don’t cater to the root cause of the tantrum, and never throw a tantrum yourself.

Children are also known to hold their breath during a tantrum. “Breath-holding spells are common in little kids. When a youngster gets frustrated or overwhelmed, he may literally hold his breath as a response to this frustration,” says Mark Krakauer, M.D., FAAP, of Saint Thomas Medical Group in Nashville. “This can be very disturbing to witness for a parent, watching as the child holds his breath, possibly turning blue and ultimately passing out. Fortunately, these spells are harmless. If the child does progress to passing out he will simply resume breathing normally once he loses consciousness. A parent can best deal with this by not overreacting to the child. If the child doesn’t get any ‘mileage’ out the episode, then the behavior goes away,” he adds.

Tips for Avoiding Tantrums
One of the best ways to prevent bad behavior is to pay attention to your little one. Before leaving the house, consider a few things: Is your child hungry or tired? Is he having a bad day? Is he feeling sick? It’s probably best to delay your trip if the answer to any of these questions is yes. Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up for trouble.

“As any parent of a young child knows, kids will have meltdowns. Meltdowns, or tantrums, are not totally preventable, but the best way to avoid them is to create an environment of consistency and structure,” says Krakauer. “It is possible to be consistent and structured without simply being overly strict.” He recommends that parents “choose their battles.” If your child knows your rules, and you stick to them, then the child is less likely to meltdown, he adds.

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