We all know that the “terrible twos” (or terrific twos, depending on how you think about it) are often rife with tantrums. From check-out line meltdowns at the grocery store to fits of despair when it’s time to leave a favorite place, these big displays of emotion are normal and expected for toddlers. By the time kids get to elementary school, the tantrums should be just a memory… right? As it turns out, tantrums happen a lot longer than many of us realized when we signed up for this parenting gig.
As kids grow out of toddlerhood, tantrums are likely to become fewer and farther between, but they’re still likely to happen from time to time. Typically, tantrums result from some kind of underlying stress and then a trigger that sets off the event.
Underlying stress can include things like being tired, hungry, scared, or lonely. And a trigger might be something like not having the snack they want, being asked to turn off a favorite show, or not being able to find their shoes. These triggers would, if there was no underlying stress, be something the child could handle. With the underlying stress though, their ability to manage the big emotions (disappointment, frustration, or anger) dissipates and they find themselves melting down.
If you’re struggling with big-kid tantrums, read on to find out what you can do to help your kiddo feel better and curb the meltdowns.
Try to avoid (or at least be aware of) underlying stress
Take note of when your kid tends to have tantrums. Is it when they get off the bus and haven’t had anything to eat for hours? If so, have a snack ready and encourage them to eat before doing anything else. Is it after that late-in-the-evening sports team practice? If so, try to find an earlier opportunity so they’re not so wiped out.
Take control of the triggers
You can’t control everything and shouldn’t walk on eggshells around your child but, if you know they’re already majorly stressed about their doctor’s appointment later in the day, it may not be the best time to ask them to clean their room. Likewise, if you know they’re hungry, tired, or otherwise overwhelmed, do your best to keep things simple until the underlying stress passes.
Don’t try to teach a lesson in the middle of a tantrum
While we all want our kids to be able to manage their emotions, mid-tantrum is not the time to try to teach them any sort of new techniques to do so. If you want to teach them things like taking deep breaths, moving to a quiet space, or punching a pillow to relieve their frustration you should do so when they’re not feeling overwhelmed or already upset. Once you teach and practice these skills a few times you can begin reminding them to use them when they’re upset.
Be present and patient
Sometimes, you just need to be present and patient as your child moves through their big emotions. Sit with them and let them know you’re available and listening as they vent their frustrations.
Reach out if you feel things are out of hand
If you feel like your child’s tantrums are taking over your family’s life, are happening more and more frequently, or are lasting longer than the tantrums of other kids their age, it doesn’t hurt to reach out to your pediatrician. While tantrums at this age can be totally normal, they can also be a sign of underlying issues like ADHD. If you have any concerns, let your child’s doctor know what’s going on and ask if they recommend further evaluation.
Tantrums at any age are no fun but, when our kids are in elementary school they also present an opportunity to help them learn to manage big feelings. Next time your kiddo has a tantrum, take a deep breath and remember that they are learning, growing, and doing their best and will eventually outgrow them altogether!