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Handling Toddler Tantrums

Steps to Handling Toddler Temper Tantrums

Even the mellowest child will likely have temper tantrums eventually, and for some children it's a regular event. They're not called the "terrible twos" for nothing, but it could start happening anywhere from one to three years. Whether in a crowded supermarket or in the privacy of your home, your patience will surely be tested as you try to deal with this seemingly irrational little being.

All the experts agree that tantrums are a normal part of a child's development. Sometimes making their debut as early as 1, the toddler temper tantrum is set off in a number of ways, though it's mostly the result of frustration.

As children begin to communicate their needs more effectively, they can easily become upset by their own limitations, as well as by a lack of responsiveness on the part of those around them. They may need to assert themselves. They may also be hungry or overtired or overstimulated. Toddlers are only just beginning to understand, control, and express their emotions.

Sears & Sears suggest the first step in handling a tantrum is to learn what sets it off. Keep a tantrum diary. Watch for pre-tantrum signs. Above all, keep your cool and model calmness. A flair-up in public can be embarrassing and difficult to handle; if at all possible, calmly remove your child (kicking and screaming if need be) to a quiet spot where you can both cool off.

Dr. Spock notes that many tantrums occur when parents put their child into a situation that he or she isn't really ready for. Fatigue, hunger, or simply boredom on a too-long shopping trip is a common trigger. A crowded, overstimulating family gathering might be another. Plan ahead and consider what your child can handle, but bear in mind that even with all the patience and tact in the world, you can't dodge every temper tantrum.

Dr. Harvey Karp's "containment" strategies include echoing the child's feelings, acknowledging verbally what she or he is feeling: "You're so mad! You're mad! You don't like it!" Then, remove the audience -- namely yourself -- so your toddler has a chance to take a time-out and calm down on his own.

Not every expert agrees that ignoring the tantrum is the best strategy, but many parents swear by it. Nevertheless, you'll need to intervene further if your child's tantrum persists and he becomes destructive or aggressive.

When all else fails, Karp says, try giving him a gentle but firm bear hug from behind while you keep whispering in his ear that everything will be fine.

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