Five scenarios that make your little one more prone to meltdowns -- and how to avoid them.
“I knew she needed a nap. But I just wanted to grab a few things,” confesses Toronto mom Angèle Gaudet. She decided to risk a quick dash into the grocery store with her three-year-old daughter.
Whisking down the cereal aisle, Gaudet knew she was in trouble when Maya lunged for Froot Loops. Gaudet took the box out of Maya’s hand. Maya flung herself on the floor, screaming, “But I want it! I’ve always waaanted it!”
Gaudet had to pick up her preschooler and leave, sans groceries.
Tantrums like these are common, even among normally well-behaved children like Maya. Studies show that between 60 and 90 percent of two-year-olds throw tantrums. The frequency peaks between 2½ and three years, when many children have them daily. By age five, most children have largely stopped, though it’s normal for older children to throw the occasional doozy.
“It’s important for parents to realize that they can’t control their children’s emotions,” says child psychologist Christina Rinaldi of the University of Alberta in Edmonton. What you can control, at least to some extent, are the situations that tend to trigger your child’s tantrums. Read on for five common tantrum triggers and how best to avoid them.
The tired trigger
As Maya’s grocery-store tantrum illustrates, no child is at his best when tired. Worse, young children don’t understand why they’re feeling so funky, says Laura Oyama, a professor of early childhood education at Toronto’s Humber College. “They just lose it, often for no rational reason.”
That was certainly the case with four-year-old Erik. “He actually fell apart over having chosen juice instead of milk with his lunch three hours earlier,” says his mom, Samantha MacLeod of Calgary. “He didn’t want me to give him milk; he wanted to have had it!”
Safety switch It’s best to respect bed and nap times, planning errands and playdates around them. But there will be occasions when you can’t avoid being away from home when your child grows tired. It can help to plan ahead by bringing a favourite sleep object, such as a blanket or stuffed animal. “Bring pyjamas if a visit is going to extend into the evening,” Oyama says. Then try to find or create a peaceful place where your child can rest his head, even if that’s your lap.
The hunger trigger
Kelowna, BC, mom Arianna Wentworth remembered to pack snacks when she drove to town with her daughter, Isabella, age two. But the errands ran too long, and the cheese cubes disappeared too soon. “Once we finally got home, she was so grumpy she wouldn’t even eat a snack while I made dinner,” Wentworth recalls. That’s when the mail arrived. Isabella wanted to tear open the bills. Her mom said no. Isabella ran over to her baby sister and hit her. Double meltdowns ensued.
Like fatigue, hunger reduces anyone’s ability to cope. “Hunger is an anxious feeling,” Oyama says. “It undercuts a young child’s need to feel safe.”
Safety switch “In the future, I will pack extra snacks,” Wentworth vows. Also keep in mind that toddlers and preschoolers eat smaller amounts and get hungry much more frequently than adults do, Oyama notes. So even at home, remember to offer healthy snacks in between the day’s sit-down meals.