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Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality health coverage, explores the underlying causes of temper tantrums in children and offers strategies for managing and defusing these challenging situations.

“Temper tantrums are a common and challenging aspect of childhood development that can leave parents, caregivers, and even bystanders feeling anxious and overwhelmed,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.

“The neuroscience behind tantrums reveals that meltdowns happen due to the ongoing development of children’s brains. They still need to acquire the coping mechanisms to manage intense emotions effectively. The good news is that most kids will grow out of temper tantrums as they learn to express themselves better.”

Understanding Temper Tantrums

Toddlers possess various skills, yet temper control isn’t typically one of them. Temper tantrums are intense, emotional outbursts that often occur in young children, often between the ages of one and four. These outbursts can take various forms, from crying and screaming to kicking, hitting, and even breath-holding. While temper tantrums can be distressing for children and adults, they are a normal part of child development and communication.

Common Causes of Temper Tantrums

While every child’s tantrum trigger is different, a few common causes for meltdowns may include the following:

Frustration: Children often lack the language skills to express their needs and frustrations adequately. When they encounter obstacles or cannot communicate their needs, frustration can lead to tantrums.

Seeking Attention: Some children may use tantrums to gain attention from parents or caregivers. Negative attention, such as scolding or reprimanding, can be just as rewarding for them as positive attention.

Fatigue and Hunger: Tiredness and hunger can exacerbate emotions and lead to increased irritability in children, making them more prone to tantrums.

Transitions and Changes: Changing routines, from playtime to mealtime or leaving a favourite place, can be challenging for young children and may trigger tantrums.

Overstimulation: Excessive sensory input, such as noise, bright lights, or crowded spaces, can overwhelm children, making them more likely to have tantrums.

Independence and Autonomy: As children strive for independence, they may become frustrated when their desires conflict with parental limits or expectations.

Emotional Regulation: Young children are still learning to regulate their emotions, and tantrums can be a way for them to release pent-up frustration, anger, or sadness.

How to Deal with Temper Tantrums

Dealing with temper tantrums requires patience, empathy, and practical strategies. Here are some steps and tips for managing and diffusing temper tantrums:

Stay Calm: Parents and caregivers must remain calm during tantrums. Losing your temper can escalate the situation.

Ensure Safety: Ensure the child’s safety and the safety of others during the tantrum. Remove any potential hazards or objects that could cause harm.

Provide comfort and reassurance without giving in to the child’s demands. Let them know you understand their feelings.

Use Distraction: Sometimes, redirecting a child’s attention to a different activity or object can help defuse the tantrum.

Set Limits: Establishing clear and consistent limits and boundaries for behaviour is essential. Be firm but loving in enforcing these limits.

Offer Choices: Giving children choices within reasonable limits can help them feel a sense of control. For example, you might say, “You can choose between these two snacks,” or “Which of these two t-shirts do you want to wear today?”.

Time-Outs: Sometimes, a brief time-out in a safe and quiet space can help a child calm down. You should explain the reason for the time-out and use it as a moment for reflection rather than punishment.

Teach Emotion Regulation: As children grow, help them understand and manage their emotions by teaching them techniques like deep breathing or using words to express feelings. 

Positive Reinforcement: Praise and reward positive behaviour to reinforce good choices and encourage cooperation.

Seek Professional Help: If temper tantrums are frequent, severe, or interfere with daily life, consider consulting a healthcare provider or child psychologist for guidance.

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