Dr Richard C. Woolfson
It doesn’t take much to trigger your toddler’s frustration.
Often, the ferocity of his temper can catch you off-guard. What seems like a simple and reasonable request to you – “It’s time for your bath, so put your toys away” – can unexpectedly result in rage.
He becomes completely overwhelmed with frustration at not being able to do exactly what he wants, and then starts to scream.
Before you can help your toddler cope with his emotions, try to understand why he becomes so angry at these explosion points.
He is at a very egocentric stage of development; he sees the world only from his point of view and he expects things to go according to the way he wants.
He is just not very adaptable to change at this age. When faced with these challenges to his personal wishes, his frustration level quickly rises, and before you know it, an apparently pleasant afternoon has turned into a battle zone.
No matter how tense and angry his outburst makes you feel, stay cool and calm. He needs you to be firm, reassuring and relaxed – that’s the best way to help him calm down. Your anger at his frustration only makes him even more exasperated.
Here are more tips to help control his temper:
1. Prevention is better than cure
Do what you can to avoid situations that you know will agitate your toddler. For instance, if a particular game usually ends in tears, avoid it altogether if you can; and if he often loses his temper in frustration at not being able to complete a jigsaw, put it away until he is a few months older. There is no point in allowing him to head for a crisis which can be side-stepped.
2. Look for warning signs
Since you know your child well, you may be able to spot the early warning signs. For instance, he might start to become irritable or whine when you tell him that he can’t have another biscuit. If you recognise these signals, step in quickly and try to calm him before he becomes too upset. Speak to him calmly, soothe him and offer him words of reassurance.
3. Distract him
Although distraction does not always work, it can be a useful way to reduce his level of discomfort. This has the greatest impact before his frustration has reached the ignition stage. For instance, if you see that he is becoming increasingly upset when you ask him to stop what he is doing, redirect his attention to something else, such as a new toy.
4. Give him a hug
If his frustration becomes too much and he is totally enraged, don’t lose your temper no matter how much chaos he causes. Stay with him, hold him steady and speak soothing words to him until he calms down, then gently release him from your arms. Once your child has regained his composure, let him pick up where he had left off or suggest a new activity altogether.