Fear not those fits Tips to tame tod­dler tem­per tantrums

Tem­per tantrums can’t al­ways be avoided, but with the right tech­niques you can get a grip and equip your child for the fu­ture, says San­dra Coet­zee

Your Baby & Toddler - - Contents -

SOME KIDS GRAB things and throw them across the room, oth­ers fall on the floor and lit­er­ally kick up a fuss, and some scream and shout so loudly that the neigh­bours come call­ing to check if every­thing is okay.

We all know that fits of rage are a nor­mal part of early child­hood devel­op­ment, but it doesn’t make it eas­ier to live with. And you keep on won­der­ing if your child is go­ing to turn into a mon­ster if you don’t man­age this phase cor­rectly.

Tem­per tantrums are part and par­cel of your child’s emo­tional life, and they have to mas­ter them in order to be phys­i­cally, in­tel­lec­tu­ally and psy­cho­log­i­cally bal­anced and be­come well-ad­justed adults, says Li­izl Miller, an ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist from Pre­to­ria. She shares her ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence of anger at­tacks and how they can be han­dled.


A child’s lan­guage use devel­ops from about 18 months, and at the same time he also starts real­is­ing that he’s able to func­tion in­de­pen­dently from his par­ents.

He’s dis­cov­er­ing him­self now, and you’ll be­gin to hear words such as “mine”, “self”, “no”, “I want” and “I don’t want” pass­ing his lips more of­ten. He uses these phrases to ex­press his new­found in­de­pen­dence, and we of­ten hear it in sit­u­a­tions such as when: ✓ He has to share his toys with some­one else. ✓ He doesn’t want Mom or Dad to help him eat or get dressed. ✓ He has spot­ted a toy or sweetie in the shops and wants it im­me­di­ately. ✓ He doesn’t want to bath or stay seated in a shop­ping trol­ley, car seat or pram.

The more aware he be­comes of his own iden­tity and per­son­al­ity, the more he wants to act in­de­pen­dently, but he’s not yet old enough to re­alise that he’s

not able to do every­thing him­self. There are in fact a great num­ber of things that pre­vent him from func­tion­ing com­pletely in­de­pen­dently: his age, lim­ited vo­cab­u­lary, the fact that he can’t rea­son yet, phys­i­cal in­abil­ity and, of course, his par­ents, who want to pro­tect him.

You can imag­ine the frus­tra­tion when you want to do some­thing with all your might but you can’t or are not al­lowed to. Your child feels like he has no con­trol over him­self or his en­vi­ron­ment – and the re­sult is a typ­i­cal fit of rage in all its ear-split­tingly loud glory.

Be­cause he doesn’t have the nec­es­sary skills, he’s forced to re­sort to in­stinc­tual be­hav­iour such as scream­ing, cry­ing, kick­ing, hit­ting, lit­er­ally throw­ing his lit­tle body on the ground and some­times in­jur­ing him­self and those around him. Or he throws things around, hits his head or even holds his breath.


Im­pulse con­trol is still un­der­de­vel­oped in the young brain. It means that your child doesn’t have phys­i­cal con­trol over some of his be­hav­iour. So you can’t ex­pect your three-year-old to act like you or even her seven-year-old sib­ling. Just like you can’t ex­pect a baby to con­trol their bod­ily func­tions, you can’t ex­pect a two-year-old to un­der­stand why a cer­tain treat is un­healthy or why a toy is un­nec­es­sary or un­af­ford­able. ✓ A small per­son’s body ex­pe­ri­ences phys­i­cal symp­toms, such as hunger, fa­tigue and feel­ing out of sorts, as dis­com­fort or pain, so just like adults they re­act by be­ing an­gry or ill-tem­pered. ✓ Chil­dren mimic be­hav­iour and iden­tify with Mom and Dad’s ac­tions. If you yell when you lose con­trol over a sit­u­a­tion or swear if you can’t get some­thing right, your child will think this is the way one acts in these sit­u­a­tions. ✓ Nega­tive at­ten­tion is bet­ter than none at all. Some­times a child feels emo­tion­ally ne­glected, and with a tem­per tantrum he gar­ners at­ten­tion.


Tem­per tantrums aren’t a bad thing. But they can be­come prob­lem­atic if you fail to help your sprog han­dle them in a healthy way. No two chil­dren have iden­ti­cal phys­i­cal or emo­tional devel­op­ment pat­terns, and the same goes for their emo­tions. Frus­tra­tion, loss of con­trol and the in­abil­ity to act in­de­pen­dently is ex­pe­ri­enced at vary­ing lev­els of in­ten­sity by dif­fer­ent chil­dren be­cause tem­per­a­ments and per­son­al­i­ties dif­fer. Your one child might glide ef­fort­lessly through the ter­ri­ble twos while the other one’s fits drive you up the wall.

All chil­dren will, how­ever, ex­pe­ri­ence emo­tions such as anger, ir­ri­ta­tion and frus­tra­tion for the rest of their lives, and they’ll ap­ply the cop­ing mech­a­nisms they learn now as they grow up and all the way into adult­hood.

There’s no win­ning strat­egy – what works for one child might not work for an­other. We tend to do one of two things: act­ing ag­gres­sively or con­ced­ing.


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