calm down
23 October, 2023

Helping Toddlers Calm Down

If it’s your first child, there’s a chance you’ll be surprised by the strength of your toddler’s occasional emotional outbursts – often called a “temper tantrum”.

Helping Toddlers Calm Down

Helping toddlers calm down is a skill most new parents need to learn.

Why toddler temper tantrums happen

Even when a baby, most children demonstrate emotions. That might be seen, for example, if a baby has a toy removed that they’re playing with. They may well voice their displeasure though at younger ages, much of that is instinct.

However, by the time a child is a toddler, things will have changed considerably. They’re likely to be much more aware and focused on what they want to do or conversely, don’t want to do. In addition, toddlers are learning fast that they can have a significant effect on the world around them. They’re reaching and climbing to get things and are able to express more clearly what they want by asking or pointing.

This is also the age where their range of emotional feelings is expanding rapidly including sensations such as jealousy, anger, happiness and frustration etc.

Unfortunately, a toddler’s rationality and vocabulary typically don’t expand as fast as their emotional range. That means, for example, that they can become overwhelmed with anger or frustration because they haven’t yet learned to understand, rationalize and control their emotions. They also can’t easily explain to others what they’re feeling because they don’t yet have the words or communication skills to do so.

This means that for toddlers, negative emotions can become overwhelming and all-consuming. Those pressures often explode in fits of rage and screaming.

There is some evidence that the frequency and severity of temper tantrums in a child appear to be related to the stage they’re at in developing language skills. Toddlers who are articulate and have a large vocabulary for their age, seem to be less inclined towards temper tantrums than others.

Should you worry?

Temper tantrums are fairly common in toddlers, although not all children suffer from them. Why some experience them and others not is poorly understood.

It’s rare, though not unknown, for toddlers to deliberately hurt themselves in the process, though they may lash out at siblings, parents or friends and they may throw things around and try to break them. While they’re having an episode of this nature, there is an increased risk of accidents too if they’re also throwing themselves around.

Most toddlers grow out of these episodes spontaneously, as they increasingly understand and control their own emotions. In some rarer cases, temper tantrums may indicate other underlying health issues such as ADHD or hearing difficulties.

If over a longer period of time, you’re having trouble helping your toddler to control their temper then your doctor may be able to offer further advice and perhaps counselling.

How to treat a tantrum

Experts typically recommend what is called the “time-in” method.

This essentially involves taking your child away from distractions such as toys, the TV and other people. That includes whatever has triggered the tantrum, assuming you know what it was. Sit down with them quietly and gently hug them – putting them on your lap if necessary.

Keep your voice calm and sympathetic. Explain that you understand why they feel strongly about the cause, even if in reality you don’t. If you’re not sure what the trigger was, gently ask your child to explain.

Some psychologists say that the average duration of a tantrum is about 3.5 minutes but you may see in many cases that it’s over in just 30-60 seconds.
Once your child has calmed down, try asking them whether they have any ideas about what they could have done about the problem apart from getting angry and upset. This helps their self-analysis and the development of control.

  • remonstrate with your child during or after a temper tantrum;
  • punish or threaten to punish them as a consequence;
  • put them somewhere on their own to calm down;
  • mock or ridicule their behaviour;
  • hold other children up as an example of good behaviour they should emulate.

Is time-in a cure?

Unfortunately, time-in simply calms a child at a given moment. It doesn’t cure an underlying predisposition towards tantrums. In the vast majority of cases, the cure is the child’s increasing maturity as they move through their preschool years.

If the tantrums are particularly severe, frequent and show no signs of improvement, you should ask your doctor for a check sooner rather than later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *