When the emotions or physical sensations get too intense, youngsters may choose to act out.

Your family is at your favorite restaurant enjoying a meal. Your toddler, distracted by the blinking lights of an arcade game, begs to be released from their high chair. You refuse, pushing their plate of unfinished food closer to their outstretched hands. Instead of taking the cue, however, your darling child knocks the entire plate to the floor with a piercing screech that startles your fellow diners. As every head in the eatery turns your way, your child launches into a full-blown temper tantrum.

This scene is a common one for many parents. What causes these intense outbursts of emotion? How can you help your child find less stressful ways to express their feelings?

The Roots of a Temper Tantrum

While older children can display the same behaviors, temper tantrums usually occur between the ages of 1 and 3 years old. It’s a common misconception that young children use tantrums to manipulate their parents. However, this is rarely the case. The real roots of temper tantrums are usually a combination of factors, including:

  • Being tired.
  • Hunger.
  • Overstimulation.
  • Emotionally stressful events.

When the emotions or physical sensations get too intense, youngsters may choose to act out.

Tantrum or Meltdown?

It is important to differentiate between a tantrum and a meltdown. While they look the same, they come from very different places.

Basically, a tantrum is a choice while a meltdown is a physiological reaction to stress. During a tantrum, your child maintains a measure of control. Meltdowns, however, are beyond your child’s ability to control. A child throwing a tantrum will calm down once they get what they want. A child in the grips of a meltdown, however, is unable to voluntarily stop their actions.

Children on the autism spectrum are prone to meltdowns from overstimulation. Parents may notice these events occurring more frequently in places that are new, loud, or filled with bright lights and decorations.

If you suspect your child is having meltdowns, visit your family physician for information on testing for autism.

Diffusing Tantrums

When the whining starts, your body responds by raising your blood pressure and preparing for a fight. Instead of giving in to frustration, however, use these tactics to short-circuit an out-of-control little one.

  • Start by taking a few deep breaths. Avoid approaching your child with anger, as this can cause the tantrum to escalate quickly.
  • Ask your child what they need. For young ones, it may help to have them point it out. If they are too upset, try offering a few suggestions, like their favorite toy or blanket.
  • Assess the child’s physical condition. When was the last time they ate or took a nap? Could the child not be feeling well?

It also helps to take note of when and where tantrums regularly occur. This way, you can avoid possible triggers and protect the peace in your household.

Little people often have a hard time dealing with big emotions. But with patience and empathy, you can reduce the frequency and severity of tantrums.

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