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Temper Tantrums: Your Questions Answered

By on November 6, 2012

The dreaded temper tantrum. Most any parent with a toddler has experienced one of these episodes of crying, kicking and screaming. Still, dealing with temper tantrums can make parents feel helpless and even worried about their child’s well being. Below are answers to some common questions about these emotional meltdowns.

Why Do Kids Have Tantrums? Are They Normal?

Temper tantrums are unplanned expressions of anger or frustration. They can include anything from whining and crying, to screaming, kicking and hitting. While they can be frustrating, temper tantrums are typical and mostly occur when children are between 1 and 3 years old. “Temper tantrums are common in the first years of a child’s life because this is when they first begin learning how to communicate with language,” explains Dr. Sara Rivero-Conil, Clinical Manager and Psychologist in the Department of  Psychology at Miami Children’s Hospital. “When a child is unable to communicate feelings with words, he or she can become angry or frustrated and resort to a tantrum to express this.”

Some of the most basic causes of tantrums include a child being tired, hungry or uncomfortable. They also happen as a result of a child not being able to get something he or she wants.“Toddlers seek independence and control of their environment, which is not always possible. When they find they cannot have or do something, this can often lead to a tantrum,” says Dr. Rivero-Conil.

How Do I Avoid Temper Tantrums?

Sometimes temper tantrums are inevitable. But there are some strategies you can use that may help in reducing the number of tantrums your child has. “I think one of the more simple ways to avoid a temper tantrum is to really know your child’s limits,” says Dr. Rivero-Conil. “For instance, if your child seems tired, try putting him or her down for a nap before going out to run errands. Meanwhile, make sure to take breaks throughout the day to provide your child with meals and snacks. ”

Another good strategy includes giving your child small choices such as “Do you want crackers or fruit?” or “Do you want to wear your red or blue socks?” so that they feel some control over their environment. It also helps to ignore your child’s negative behavior when possible.  Instead, try to acknowledge positive behavior as much as possible. Oftentimes, we forget to praise positive behavior and place too much attention on the negative.

More Than Just a Tantrum?

“Most of the time, tantrums are a normal part of growing up,” notes Dr. Rivero-Conil. “But if you’re feeling uncomfortable or out of control, or if the tantrums seem to be getting worse or more frequent, you should call your doctor.”  Though not common, tantrums can indicate problems with vision or hearing, language or cognitive development. Take note of contributing factors to your child’s behavior in order to prevent future tantrums. Observing your child’s everyday behavior and voicing your concerns can better help your doctor ensure your toddler is growing up happy and healthy.

Courtesy of Miami Children’s Hospital. For more information, visit www.mch.com.

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