How using compassion helps to quickly and easily diffuse emotional outbursts or toddler tantrums and meltdowns in children. DR VANESSA VON AUER, clinical psychologist in Singapore and founding principal of Integrated International School (IIS) talks us through these issue.
Your child is screaming or refusing to listen to you. You have no idea how to handle the tantrum. You’re also starting to wonder how old they’ll be before they stop behaving this way! What do you do? “People often think that tantrums and meltdowns are the same,” says DRVON AUER. “It’s important to understand the difference between the two, so that you can help your child effectively.”
Dr Vanessa also reminds parents that if tantrums aren’t excessive, they’re a perfectly healthy component of a child’s development. She tells us more here.
What constitutes a toddler tantrum and at what age do kids typically start having them?
Tantrums are emotional outbursts that express a child’s frustration. They occur when a child is not getting their way, or because they’re unable to verbally communicate their ideas, thoughts and desires. Meltdowns are a response to feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated by the environment. They can revolve heavily around anxiety and can cause your child to completely shut down.
Remember that a child is not misbehaving when they have a tantrum – they’re going through a natural process where they’re learning to self-regulate, which is imperative for healthy emotional development. Tantrums normally happen during toddler and preschool years, and should become less common by around six years of age.
How can I best manage my child when they have a meltdown?
Your child is experiencing an overwhelming emotional sensation, which may be completely new to them. It’s important for you to remain as calm as possible, to effectively diffuse the situation. Let your child know that their feelings are okay and will soon pass. Once your child has calmed down or allows you to hold them, give them a big hug. For children who are more verbal, ask if they’d like to debrief. Identify strategies that’ll help your child to manage their feelings – for example, a cue word that means mum or dad will go for a walk with them, or a toy or a favourite song.
Is there anything I should avoid saying or doing during a toddler tantrum?
Never invalidate your child’s feelings with statements such as, “You have nothing to cry about” or “People are looking”. This will only escalate the situation while adding additional sensory overload. Give your child permission to experience their feelings and provide them a safe environment to do so. You can rectify behavioural issues once your child has calmed down and is receptive to talking.
Should I be managing meltdowns in public differently?
Kids can lose their sense of safety during a temper tantrum. If you’re in a public space or unfamiliar environment, such as a main road or a mall, bring your child to a safe private space to calm down, before giving them the option to resume the activity.
At what point should I call a doctor or professional to intervene?
Frequent or highly intense tantrums may suggest underlying physical or psychological issues. If your child is having frequent meltdowns that are prolonged or triggered by a specific change in routine or surroundings, it’s worth seeing a clinical psychologist or paediatrician on the next steps for a professional assessment.
If you need help in managing your child’s tantrum, seek professional help from a psychologist. For further information, visit iis.edu.sg.
This article first appeared in the April 2021 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!