Taming Temper Tantrums: Behavior Management for Toddlers

Home 9 未分類 9 Taming Temper Tantrums: Behavior Management for Toddlers

Understanding Temper Tantrums and Other Behavior Problems

Children are always changing, as are their more difficult behaviors. And so, it’s helpful to distinguish the temper tantrums of toddlers from the problem behavior of older children.

Toddler tantrums

Temper tantrums are explosive expressions of anger or frustration in children, especially toddlers. They tend to begin at around 18 months, continuing until around the age of 4 (Chamberlin, 1974).

They can be more or less dramatic, ranging from whining and crying to screaming, throwing, and breaking things (Potegal & Davidson, 2003).

Temper tantrums are extremely common, occurring at a point in their social-emotional development when toddlers are becoming increasingly aware of their growing autonomy but have limited language with which to express their wishes and emotions (Potegal & Davidson, 2003).

They can be caused by any combination of tiredness, hunger, frustration, or a need for attention, combined with a limited ability to communicate and regulate emotions (Kyle, 2008).

Tantrums may also have an instrumental dimension. In throwing a tantrum, a toddler may be trying to get their caregiver to do something, for example, give them a favored treat. This aspect of tantrums will only become more prominent if the caregiver gives in.

If throwing a tantrum gets a child their way, then that behavior will be reinforced, meaning that it will be more likely to happen again the next time the child wants something.

While temper tantrums are normal, if they are unusually severe and/or frequent, they might signal a neurodevelopmental condition such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, problems with anxiety or depression, or a more general pattern of defiance toward adults, which could lead to a diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder (Belden et al., 2003).

A parent might want to consult a professional if their child’s tantrums happen nearly every day, involve violence toward others or self-harm, happen with adults other than the child’s primary caregivers, and/or don’t have any obvious trigger (Belden et al., 2003).

Problem behavior in older children

As children get older, new problem behaviors arise, but the same underlying causes continue to operate: tiredness, hunger, strong emotions that they struggle to contain, a need for attention, and a desire to get their caregivers to do something. In addition, as older children become more able to understand and stay within limits, they are also motivated to test them and find out just how far they can go.

To manage the behavior of children from around age 3, probably the most important principle to understand is this: they will work to get attention of any kind (Iwata et al., 1994).

Much of their bad behavior is an effort to get attention, even if it is negative, which means that much of what parents reflexively do in response to bad behaviors — criticizing, admonishing, yelling — actually serves to reinforce it. We will return to this below.

Teaching Emotion Regulation and Coping Skills

Behavior management for toddlersBehavior management for toddlersChildren do, of course, get better at regulating emotion as they mature, but this process can be helped along with the right methods.

Parents can start to introduce these to their toddlers and will find that their effectiveness increases over time.

Security and connection

The foundation for emotional regulation is a predictable home environment with consistent rules and routines, managed by caregivers with whom the child has a secure, loving connection (Kochanska, 2001).

The sense of stability that comes from consistency at home helps the child cope with the less predictable world outside, and it is through their secure connection with caregivers that they learn to understand and respond appropriately to their own feelings.

Talk about feelings

From the earliest ages, children learn about their feelings through how their parents talk about them. If parents are ready to name their child’s emotions with compassion, then the child can learn to recognize their own feelings and accept them without necessarily acting them out (Denham, 2019). This can and should be done at any time, and certainly when the child is upset.

A toddler’s tantrum is unlikely to be cut short by naming the emotion that is being expressed, but doing so lays the groundwork for the child to self-regulate in the future. With an older child, such an intervention may be effective in heading off an emotional outburst if it is delivered before the stage of total meltdown (Webster-Stratton, 1992).

More generally, discussion of feelings should be a normal part of home life. Children need to hear their parents discussing their own feelings, as well as routinely allowing space for the child to talk about their feelings without fear of having them judged or dismissed.

Stay calm

Children don’t just learn from what parents say; they learn from what they do (Bandura et al., 1961). So, all efforts to teach emotional regulation will be undermined if parents explode with uncontrollable fury when they get a parking ticket.

It is especially unhelpful (though understandable) for parents to lose their cool while dealing with their children’s outbursts. Not only is it self-contradictory to yell “Calm down!” at an upset child, but it will in general upset the child further.

With a tantruming toddler, the most effective intervention is often simply to remain calm while the tantrum runs its course. With an older child, other methods might be employed, but they are not enhanced by expressions of anger.


Some children respond well to soothing, either verbal or physical, and may start to internalize the ability to show themselves compassion when upset. Others don’t, in which case it is best not to try.

Techniques that children can use

As children get older, they can be taught to use techniques for anger management and emotional regulation in general without an adult’s help. There are too many of these to list, but for a useful overview, parents can watch this video:

Source link

Related Posts