Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tantrums in Young Toddlers

Tantrums are not exactly fun for the parents. Somehow over night my 13 month old son went from a well-mannered baby to a toddler who is trying to figure out which behaviors are benefiting him the most. Let's see, last month he decided that he would try biting, then he progressed to pinching/ hitting, and he has now advanced to squealing. Although he can do an excellent piglet imitation, my husband and I as well as the babysitter are not too excited about the squealing. The biting and hitting diminished because I nipped that behavior in the bud. But the squealing is not so easy. Now, according to my mom, I was a late talker and when I squealed it was just as high-pitched as my son's squeal. So, I guess I'm getting paid back.

When my son squeals to get more food, then that is easy to redirect. I remind him to use sign-language for "more" or "drink". I do pause versus doling out food immediately, because he needs to learn patience and not think that his squealing got him the food right away. First, I label his wants, "Oh, you must want more food". He then nods, smiles, or becomes quiet. Sometimes he says "mar" for more or "nana" for banana. I then take my ole' sweet time, and if he remains quiet I give him more food.

When he squeals because his older sister took away his toy, then that is easily redirectible too. My daughter is a great kid, but because she is a perfectionist she says "Mom, I just took the toy away to show him how it should be played with. I'm just teaching him!". Of course, that is not how a 13 month old sees it when his toy is taken away.

When he arches back, squeals, or fusses when he is tired, that is also easily fixed. I put him in his crib for a nap or bedtime. I also try to read the signs that he might be sleepy way before the tantrum comes on. Looking at the clock doesn't work because he is advancing from 2 naps to 1 nap a day, but teetering back and forth. Signs that a toddler may give you that he is sleepy, is being less active, getting mad at the toys, rubbing eyes, yawning, or gazing off. When you miss these signs, crying or tantrums may sneak up on you. This can be easily resolved when you are at home, but not so easily fixed when somewhere else. I try to really look at my son's signals he is sending me before going to the grocery store or doing othe shopping. Because for some reason, I am not found of tantrums in the store.

As previously mentioned in other blogs and my profile, I work with infants and toddlers with special needs in their homes and in the community settings. One of the biggest questions I get asked is how to stop the tantrums. This is a loaded question, because the same behavior of squealing or throwing oneself down on the floor can have different reasons. So, I along with the parents/caregivers become investigators. I need to know what happened immediately before the tantrum as well as: How long ago did he wake up? Is he taking any new medications or new dosages? Has he been ill lately? Any unresolved food allergies? And the list goes on. I try to rule out any medical problems that are beyond the child's control. Often, a child with a language or developmental delay has a tantrum because he can't express his needs or wants, or he may just get frustrated later in the day or before naptime because of the extra energy he exerts having to figure things out. Children with delays have to work a lot harder than children who are typically developing. Other reasons for tantrums are to exert control, poor sensory processing, fear, or anxiety.

Be in tuned with your child and read the signals he is giving you to rule out the basics. Although this blog was aimed more towards the older baby or toddler, babies give off signals of frustration or being over-whelmed as well. They may cry, fall asleep from shutdown, be avoidant, etc. For explanations on why babies cry, go to Also on that site are ways to calm down a baby as these strategies may keep the baby from escalating into full frustration.

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