Studies reveal that between 60 – 90% of toddlers throw tantrums. The frequency of which tend to peak around two and a half and three years of age, when some toddlers have meltdowns daily. The good news is that he will grow out of it (eventually), and by the age of five these seemingly irrational outbursts will have stopped.
According to the Child Mind Institute, based in New York, in the US, tantrums and meltdowns are among the biggest challenges of parenting. Not only are they hard to understand or prevent, but it’s even harder to respond effectively when your child is in the throes of one.
The experts make a distinction between a tantrum and a complete meltdown. A tantrum usually describes milder outbursts, where your child still manages to retain a measure of control over his behaviour. The tantrum is likely to subside if no attention is paid to it. A meltdown, on the other hand, has your child losing control so completely and he only stops when he wears himself down, or you manage to calm him down (whichever comes first).
Avoid or at least prepare for the following triggers:
A hungry toddler
Your child metabolises food differently. He tends to eat smaller amounts and will get hungry more frequently than you do. Experts share that hunger is an anxious feeling at this age, and goes back to the object and attachment theory. It reduces your toddler’s ability to cope.
Solution: Pack snacks. Lots of them. And have them easily accessible.
A tired toddler
At this age, your toddler needs around 12 to 14 hours of sleep a day. When he doesn’t get this, he doesn’t understand why he feels the way he does, so will have a meltdown for no apparent reason.
Solution: Keep to routine as much as possible when it comes to bed and nap times. Plan activities, visits and errands around these. Of course, there are times when this is not possible, so where you can, plan ahead. If you know you are going out for the afternoon, rather pack his favourite sleep object and his PJs. That way, if you run late, he still has his familiar object around him, even in an unfamiliar routine or surrounds.
He doesn’t understand why he can’t do something
In fact, he has no ability to reason at all at this stage. He may think it is perfectly rational to go out in his swimming costume and gum boots in the rain, and won’t understand why this is a problem for you.
Solution: Pick your battles. If it’s not a health or safety risk, the occasional strange outfit will help him feel like he is in control. And he will soon realise what is appropriate or not. Either way, you will have great ammunition for his 21st birthday. Of course, if what he is demanding is a danger to him or completely out of the question, you need to take the upper hand.
A change in routine
Children love routine. And when this changes, whether due to a new sibling, a new school, or simply a new outing – it disrupts his view of the world.
Solution: Prepare him as much as possible for the disruptions in his routine by giving him advanced warning. It may help to tell him that why it is usually done one way, this is another way. Help ease him into the new routine.
He has no perspective
As far as he is concerned, you and the world revolve around him. He is still trying to grasp the concept of empathy. When he refuses to do something, in his mind he is not being defiant or disrespectful – he simply can’t understand why he can’t have what he wants.
Solution: Try offering a solution or reason why. “If we go now, we will be home in time to watch your favourite programme.” Avoid outright bribes like “I will get you an ice-cream if you stop screaming.”
He is trying to express himself
Toddlers understand a lot more than they can verbally communicate, and it’s frustrating for him, when he knows what he wants to say or do, but can’t verbalise this. Again, it goes back to his own perspective on the issue as well. This is extremely frustrating for him.
Solution: Try and understand what he is telling you. Maybe ask him to show you instead. Not only will this distract him, but he will feel less frustrated once he gets you to understand what he wants.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.