Preschoolers and Temper Tantrums

If you can think of temper tantrums as no more than another step in the development of your preschooler, the incidents become immediately less stressful.

Of course, it’s never pleasant (or easy to objectify) when your previously compliant toddler starts whining, kicking and screaming when crossed – especially when you’re out in public and sure to receive dirty looks and a surprising amount of unwanted advice.

Wherever you are, though, stay absolutely calm throughout and ignore the tantrum as much as possible. Because preschoolers have no inhibitions, any pleas for silence will go completely unheeded or indeed give your child the attention s/he seeks.

Development of Preschoolers and Temper Tantrums

Two-year-old children are often irritated by their inability to make themselves understood. It’s a feeling you’ll sympathize with if you’ve ever studied a foreign language: you can comprehend a fair amount long before you can utter a word.

They talk,  point, and stare at an object of desire – making every effort to clearly state a request. The disturbance begins when the adult does not comply, either ignoring the “baby talk” and responding with what must seem like a non sequitur (Mommy loves Pookins too!) or understanding but saying “no”, and giving an absolutely acceptable (to an adult) reason: a breakable object, a too-expensive toy in a store.

In addition to communication woes, preschool children are experiencing a time of great physical mobility and are also ready to start pushing the limits of their new-found independence. Certainly, it’s a time when fast and headstrong toddlers can put themselves in great danger.  Who hasn’t seen parents and caregivers in full pursuit of escaping charges, usually yelling urgent directives and commands, like “Stop!” and “Come back!”. Is it any wonder parents of teens go through periods of debilitating déjà vu a decade or so after surviving this preschool stage?

Physical Needs and Temper Tantrums

With all our maturity, reasoning ability and self-control, tired adults don’t have the patience they normally do when well-rested; they’re a little crankier, a little quicker to get frustrated with a situation or problem. Think of how much more out of control a tired preschooler is. One “no” and your child descends into a screaming frenzy.

Hunger affects temperament in much the same way – hungry kids are cranky kids. Most times hunger-based tantrums occur when the best-laid plans have gone awry: moms get caught snack-less, like in the car on the way home from an event, or while in a long line at the grocery store check-out.

Taming the Temper Tantrum

Clearly, careful planning and workarounds can prevent some temper tantrums. Keep healthy snacks and freshwater in diaper bags or in your carry-all. Store precious knick-knacks out of sight at home to prevent a battle of wills. Keep your preschooler safely strapped in the shopping cart seat and stay out of toy aisles. If you recognize the signs of approaching mayhem, abandon the trip completely and focus on the needs of the child.

If your preschooler has been having tantrums frequently when you’re out in public, first eliminate any unnecessary trips. If you must take the child along, try a few extremely short trips and be sure to use behavior- or incident-specific praise. (“You waited so nicely in line!”). Hopefully, you’ll reinforce conduct you wish to see in future, and also prevent negative attention-getting behaviors.

Blue Elephant When a calm visit to grandma’s house (with all her breakables) becomes too stressful to manage, tell grandma to come to your house or meet you at a playground. Another option is to help grandma prepare one “child-proof” room in her house, with lots of age-appropriate activities, and keep your visits short.

Choose your battles – do you really have to say “no” to the request at hand or should you save your “no” for another day?