This is part two on the article of “Dealing with Toddler Temper Tantrums.” Please click the link to read the first part.
Tactics for Managing Tantrums
That fact that temper tantrums begin to decrease as children develop the language skills suggests that part of the cause is due to the inability to express their feelings. The ability to articulate emotions can provide an alternative outlet for expressing frustrations. Communication is therefore and important means for helping your toddler deal with temper tantrums.
How can you use communication to help manage a child’s temper tantrums?
1. Teach Your Baby Sign Language
Young children often understand a lot more than they are able to express because the motor skills required to learn how to speak take longer to develop than the ability to understand.
It has been found that children are able to learn to communicate through Sign more easily and earlier than they are able to learn how to speak. For this reason, some parents have found that teaching Sign Language to their babies can provide their children with a means of communicating their needs and feelings. Being able to communicate with adults reduces frustrations thereby reducing the number of temper tantrums experienced.
Sign Language can be taught from as early as five months and can begin to sign from as early as seven or eight months. Exactly when a child will learn to sign back depends on the individual child and the parents’ persistence with Signing. Some child will learn to sign early, others not until they are past the first year.
Even if your child can say a few words, you can augment their communication skills by adding Sign Language to their repertoire. Based on my experience signing with Gavin, I found Sign Language also assisted his acquisition of speech. Many of his first words were the words he had already learned to sign.
2. Offering Words for Expression
If you haven’t taught your child to sign, haven’t got the time or the patience, or for whatever reasons, you can still help your child reduce frustration and temper tantrums through communication. When your child is frustrated and upset, try to understand the cause of the temper tantrum and offer words that express what you believe your child is feeling.
Sometimes having his frustrations voiced by a parent may be enough to help diffuse a child’s temper tantrum. Take the example of a two year old child who is disappointed that her favourite breakfast cereal has run out. One way of helping her cope is to help her articulate the cause for her tantrum. For instance, “You’re upset because there’s no more cereal?”
This is just an example to illustrate the point, however, it is worth while noting a point made by paediatrician Harvey Karp. Children who are caught up in the fit of a temper tantrum usually experience a reduction in their cognition. Personally, I think this happens with everyone. Remember a time when you were really upset and someone tried to talk to you. Very likely you barely heard a word they said because your thoughts were clouded by emotion. If it was difficult for you to take in what others are saying when you’re upset, it becomes a lot worse for a child.
When dealing with a child in the throes of a temper tantrum, simplifying your language to Toddlerese (a term coined by Harvey Karp). Toddlerese is basically a means of speaking to toddlers using a method that allows them to understand you no matter their level of distress. The idea is to speak in short simple sentences consisting of only a few words and lots of repetition. For instance, instead of saying “You’re upset because there’s no more cereal?” you would say, “You’re mad, mad, mad! Because no cereal! No cereal!” And you would keep repeating the words until your toddler begins to register what you’re saying.
3. Non-Verbal Understanding
For some children, sometimes silent support and understanding is what is required. For instance, hugging or holding your child until they calm down. This can also work best when you really don’t know why your toddler is upset and blindly guessing at the reason might serve only to frustrate your toddler even more.
There were some instances with Gavin when he would fly into a temper tantrum for reasons I couldn’t even begin to guess. The first few times, I would try to determine the cause by asking him. When it became evident that my questions only served to aggravate his tantrum even more, I fell to silent and just held him calmly until he regained control of himself. When I just held him and stayed silent, he seemed to calm down more quickly.
Deciding which method to use depends on your child and the situation. For some children, one specific method may work best most of the time, while for other children, you may need to assess the situation before selecting a course of action. Initially, it may be a matter of hitting and missing but eventually you’ll begin to get a feel for what works best with your child. At the end of the day, the most important thing you want to communicate to your child is your love and understanding.
We’ll be back tomorrow with more tips for dealing with toddler temper tantrums.