Tantrums are one of the most challenging parts of parenting a toddler. And though it can often feel as though you’re failing at parenting when these episodes take place, tantrums are actually a healthy part of a tot’s emotional development.
“How you view tantrums changes how you deal with them. Parents should understand that they’re a normal part of development,” said pediatric psychologist Dr. Corrin Elmore.
Naturally, most parents will attempt to stop the tantrum as it is occurring, but it’s actually better to step back and let things play out.
“Instead of trying to stop them, you actually want to let the child work through it on their own,” said Dr. Elmore. “It’s the child’s job to soothe themselves and you want them to learn it young rather than trying to stop them and then they still don’t know how to do it when they get older.”
Additionally, parents should also avoid pacifying the child by giving them what they want as a means of ending the tantrum or giving the child special attention during those episodes as it will only encourage the behavior.
“It’s not ignoring them, it’s giving them the time to calm down so that when they’re ready, you can re-engage,” Dr. Elmore added. “Think about an adult who is really upset, they won’t listen to any advice you have when they’re really upset. So you’re kind of not engaging at that time, but what you want to do is wait until they’re calm and give them some praise.”
Though tantrums are something that toddlers should be having, parents can work to make this trying stage a little easier on themselves and their tots by working to prevent episodes in the first place. This can be done by reading your toddler’s cues and following their daily schedule with fidelity.
“You want to prevent the tantrums, so you avoid taking them to a really loud place if they’re hungry. Don’t take them somewhere during nap time,” Dr. Elmore said. “Prevention is key. Do what you can to prevent the tantrum.”
Of course, there are times when sticking to the schedule is just not possible. As a result, your tot may begin to fall apart in a public. When tantrums happen in public spaces, such as the grocery store, your local department store, or, God forbid, a family function, it’s still best to let the tantrum play out. However, Dr. Elmore recommends removing the toddler from the situation into a more private area.
“Let them work through it, name their feelings, and let them have it. If it’s too disruptive and they’re in public, take them somewhere quiet and let them have it there, but they need to have the chance to work through it because they’re going to work through it now or later.”
Having your kid tantrum in front of others, especially relatives can be particularly embarrassing because it can make parents feel inadequate. And when your old school relatives decide to add their two cents, the shame can compile.
“A lot of the information we have now, our parents didn’t have. Especially in the Black community, it’s really seen as you doing something wrong if your child is tantruming instead of looking at it as a normal thing that your child should be doing,” Dr. Elmore said.
Though easier said than done, especially when auntie or grandma attempt to interject, parents should work to keep their cool and recognize that this is just a phase that will soon pass. Additionally, it’s helpful to have a little compassion for your little one who is still learning to deal with big emotions before she has acquired the language to fully articulate herself.
“Usually, you’ll hear about the terrible twos and terrible threes and that’s because language development starts around two. Children are understanding more and more, but also can’t express that. They’re having more feelings and trying to express them and it’s frustrating,” Dr. Elmore explained.
On especially trying days, try to keep the end goal in mind. “We’re trying to teach kids how to increase their frustration tolerance when they’re young,” Dr. Elmore added. Frustration tolerance is defined as the ability to overcome and withstand stressful events. “To tell a kid, ‘You better stop this right now,’ all they’re going to learn is to listen to you but they won’t learn to work through frustration.”