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Tame Temper Tantrums

Tantrums are normal.

Why does your child melt down from time to time? Researchers think these emotional explosions are part of children’s normal efforts to establish a sense of individuality and autonomy — a sort of declaration of independence from mom and dad. They are also trying to make sense of their emotions and don’t know how to communicate what they are feeling. Sometimes a child will start to express her feelings in subtle ways, such as frowning, sighing or pulling away. Reading and responding to those early cues of building stress may help prevent a tantrum.

Stay calm. Take a deep breath and try to stay calm. It doesn’t help matters and may make things worse if you get upset. A tantrum is no fun for you, but losing control is scary for a child too. Your child needs you to show her how to calm her body down by taking slow deep breaths and being still.

Stay close. Kneel or bend down to your child’s level, stay close and touch him soothingly. With a young child, try sitting him on your lap. It may take a few minutes for your child to settle down, but a little time can make a big difference. Reassure him that you are there and that you understand he is upset.

Don’t push for explanations. During a tantrum, don’t expect your child to explain what’s wrong. She might not even know; and if she is pressured to communicate her feelings when she feels out of control, it could make the situation worse.

Address bad behavior. Even though occasional tantrums are normal, it’s not okay for a child to hit others or damage things. Explain that hitting is not okay, and just like you wouldn’t let anyone hurt him, you won’t let him hurt himself or anyone else. Children need to feel safe.

Don’t punish.

It can be tempting to punish a child for throwing a tantrum, but it’s not a good idea. Keep in mind that the fits are a normal part of your child’s emotional development. Instead of punishing, use the tantrum as a chance to teach your child to deal with overwhelming emotions and stressful situations. She’ll learn that even though things happen that she doesn’t like, she can learn to make good decisions about calming down and feeling better.

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