Tantrums are a form of communication that indicate an overload state and have varying underpinnings.
A tantrum can be due to a physiologic reason and may simply mean your child is overwhelmed. The primary culprits are fatigue, hunger, change in diet, coming down with an illness or a change in medication. Most of us have probably experienced at least one of these ourselves. The goal is to help your child calm and proactively plan for prevention.
Tantrums can also be a result of emotional stressors such as a change in routine, positive stressors (i.e. visitors, an exciting trip) or negative stressors (i.e. strife in your household, a low test score). These underlying reasons for overload may not be apparent and the goal is to help your child calm, and later, to process what may be going on under her big emotions. A cozy space provides a safe place to calm and have a “break”.
Tantrums can also be the result of child having learned that this is an effective way to get attention and or something he wants. This is absolutely normal in some stages of development as your child seeks to find your ‘boundaries’. In these cases, it is important to set a reasonable boundary and calmly stick to it. Your consistency will send the message that no matter how big the tantrum, you are sticking to what you said. Once a child knows the boundary, tantrums will usually decrease.
Tantrums can also be the result of a child having difficulty with her own ability to self-regulate (calm her self). The child who is more sensitive or anxious is more easily upset by small events not going as expected. The highly active child is already in an elevated state much of the time and small things may send him into a tantrum with seemingly little provocation. A child who has a hard time verbalizing around her emotions is more likely to act out her big emotions.
A tantrum is one way your child communicates and your goal is to support your child to regulate and process feelings verbally rather than through behavior. Be consistent. Help your child anticipate and make a “plan B”. Help your child to self-calm. Strengthen your child’s ability to verbalize around the experiences that occur each day.
Originally published in Maui Family Magazine.