How Parents are Causing Their Kids to Have Tantrums
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How Parents are Causing Their Kids to Have Tantrums

parentingPublished October 25, 2022

by Rachel Tomlinson

Registered Psychologist

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Tears, shouts, rolling on the floor, and possibly some kicking or stomping.1 Temper tantrums are common and unpleasant ways our little people express strong emotions. They often happen before kids have the developmental capacity to express their feelings in socially appropriate ways. But that’s not the only reason they happen; sometimes, a parent’s behavior is what’s causing their kids to have tantrums.

In typical child development, tantrums can often begin around one year, up until age two or three, and sometimes to age four.1 They mainly diminish as our kids communicate their needs and wants better. When children strive for independence, tantrums can occur before they are capable (emotionally or physically), creating frustration that is expressed in volatile ways.1

What Causes Tantrums?

Our little people learn they can impact us by how they behave, and they might begin to use tantrums to control a situation or change our behavior. For example, we might give in to something they want. Some additional reasons might include:1

  • Being unwell.
  • Their cups aren’t filled, so their emotional resilience is low. This is when they might be hungry, tired, or need connection.
  • During critical transition times between home, school, daycare, etc.
  • They don’t have the words to express their need.
  • Are responding to their caregiver’s feelings. They are like little antennas and can pick up on our stress, and they are then overwhelmed.

How Parents Might Cause Kids to Have Tantrums

I would never want a parent to feel guilty about influencing a tantrum because tantrums are a normal part of child development. Parents absolutely cannot be perfect, so it’s okay if we make mistakes. It’s normal. However, it’s essential to identify ways we might accidentally or unintentionally be causing kids to have tantrums.

Not Noticing Their Child is Overstimulated

Children’s brains are hardwired to learn. There are so many new things in their environment that they haven’t been exposed to, and their little brains don’t get a break as they constantly try to catalog or make sense of the world. So, they can quickly become overstimulated, which dysregulates them . . . and cue a tantrum.1,2

Inconsistency with Rules in Response to Tantrums

Yes, it can be super hard to deal with your kid’s tantrums; they aren’t nice and can feel embarrassing. But if we ever give in to a tantrum based on your child not wanting to follow an instruction or because they wanted something, it’s a recipe for disaster. Our little people will soon learn that we might give in if they tantrum. So, they continue with this behavior because it ultimately helps them get what they want.

Not Allowing Them to Sit with Their Feelings

When we rush our kid’s feelings, saying, “You’ll be okay,” “Don’t worry, it’s fine,” etc., it accidentally invalidates them. This can cause an even bigger emotional response. Still, we also mistakenly develop a fear in them around emotions. They can struggle to learn the skills to manage big feelings if we don’t allow them to cope with emotions. So don’t rush too quickly to resolve things for them.

Having Unrealistic Expectations

Expecting too much from our kids can make them feel overwhelmed or distressed. We are trying to set clear expectations that are developmentally and age-appropriate so they are more likely to succeed and meet these goals. Be reasonable, and don’t expect them to be perfect.

No Preparation for Transitions

Changing between areas or activities can be challenging for our little ones. They often don’t understand why they must do this. Leaving a comfortable place they know and understand can be pretty overwhelming. So, when we don’t warn them that things will change or prepare them for what’s to come, it can be a huge shock, and they don’t respond well.

Tips for Managing Tantrums

Here are some helpful strategies to help stay calm and manage tantrums your kids may have:

Take a Breath

Unless your child is unsafe, there is no harm in pausing so you can collect yourself. Once you feel settled, you will be able to respond to your child’s needs and behavior much calmer. This reduces the likelihood of escalation.

Allow Them to Feel Their Feelings

I know it’s hard but try not to buy into your kid’s tantrum. Of course you shouldn’t ignore your child; by all means, remove them to a safe place or away from triggers. I mean, allow them to feel their feelings and don’t get caught up in the potential embarrassment. This guilt or shame can often cause parents to jump in to try and fix the issue so their kid stops drawing attention. But unless they are unsafe, it’s okay for them to feel the feelings.

Wait for Them to Calm Down

Wait until they are calmer before you try to reason with them. When our kids have big feelings, they literally cannot hear or process what you are saying. Leave the lectures until afterward.

Don’t Give In

Once you have set a boundary, you must stick to it and be consistent. That means only set boundaries you can follow through on.

No Bribery

Don’t use rewards or bribery to get them to stop. It will make things worse in the long run when they realize they get something nice when they tantrum.

Prepare Them for Transitions

Set a timer, show them pictures of where you are going, tell them the steps required during the transition, and have a toy or token that they can have between changes. If you know your child’s triggers, try to act before these kinds of events or exposure so that they will have maximum resilience to help them cope with challenges.

When our kids have tantrums, it’s tough! It’s important to feel prepared and fully understand how you can help manage critical situations that might be triggering or influencing tantrums. Being fully prepared and having an action plan will help you feel more confident and in control when tantrums appear. You’ve got this!

Resources
1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-7599.2012.00755.x
2. https://journals.lww.com/jrnldbp/Abstract/2003/06000/Behavioral.2.aspx

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