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Can a Temper Tantrum Be Harmful to my Toddler?

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Temper tantrums, while disconcerting, usually do not harm your child.

Temper tantrums, while disconcerting, usually do not harm your child.

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Question: Can a Temper Tantrum Be Harmful to my Toddler?
A mom writes,
"When my toddler throws temper tantrums, he's sometimes hard to calm down and may end up crying for a long time. He also sometimes throws himself down or bangs his head on the ground. Could he actually cause harm to himself while throwing these fits? It totally freaks me out when he does this so I usually just give him whatever he wants so he'll stop."
Answer:

Can a Tantrum Hurt Your Toddler? Yes and No

First, the good news: Since the dawn of time, toddlers have been throwing temper tantrums out of frustration and in order to get the things that they desire. Most temper tantrums are not violent affairs, but do involve lots of tears and yelling. Rest assured, your toddler is not going to be harmed by a little crying and all that yelling may yield a bit of hoarseness but not much more.

Now, the bad news: The irony here could be that the most harmful part of a temper tantrum isn't what your toddler is doing, but what you don't do to put a stop to them over time. Luckily now is always the right time to start implementing effective techniques of dealing with temper tantrums.

Make Sure the Area Is Safe

If your toddler is kicking, hitting, throwing things, throwing himself down on the ground or into walls or banging his head, then there is some potential for harm. If you see a tantrum coming, try to defuse the situation, if possible, without giving in (thus undermining your authority).

If you can't prevent the tantrum, make sure that your child is in a safe, soft area if he's got a history of getting physical. Strap him into his car seat or stroller if you're out and about or move to a carpeted area with pillows around or to a bed if you're at home. Stay away from hard wood floors and tile or areas with furniture having sharp corners.

Try to Communicate Clearly

Once your toddler is safe, try to figure out what's behind the tantrum. If it's a temper tantrum provoked by frustration, see if you can help your toddler by working to give him ways to express what he's feeling. Each time you're able to do this, you're one step closer to less temper tantrums. Your toddler lacks the basic language and coping skills needed to deal with his budding independence so he needs your help.

Look around you for context clues about what might be the problem and help him solve it in a calm and clear manner. Many times these types of temper tantrums are easily worked out once you're down on your toddler's level. An empty sippy cup, an uncomfortable sock seam or not knowing what to do about the pain from an ant bite, for example, are all perfectly reasonable explanations for a tantrum that does not require discipline but does require lots of empathy.

Try Holding Your Toddler To Calm Him Down

If your toddler can't seem to calm down after a few minutes, try holding him close to you. Sometimes he might get so carried away with his tantrum that he needs your help to get control of himself. Don't hold too tightly but don't let him go, either. You can either be silent or speak in a very low, slow voice to reassure him that everything is going to be all right and that he needs to calm down. Usually, your toddler will cry for a couple of minutes more and then sort of collapse in your arms, at which time you can try to work on the problem calmly or use a technique like distraction or redirection.

Don't Let Your Reaction Encourage the Tantrum

Some toddlers throw temper tantrums less out of frustration about problem-solving matters and more out of an effort to get you to do what they want. If you've told your child "No" to some request or have told him that he needs to do something he doesn't want to do, a temper tantrum may be the result. In this case, discipline is the best way to handle the issue. Warn your child that he needs to stop throwing a tantrum or he'll have to go to time out and then follow through if he does not stop.

You may not realize it, but if your child is able to push your buttons and get a reaction out of you with his temper tantrums, then he will realize that his method works. A vicious cycle begins as he tantrums and you give in over and over. Worse is when you're trying with all your might to resist and your child pulls out the big guns by doing something that he knows has gotten attention in the past.

Consistent Discipline for Intentional Temper Tantrums Isn't Harmful, Either

And what gets more parental attention than a hurt or sick child? Many toddlers have figured this out and may bang their heads or even stick their fingers down their own throats. During those times, it's more important than ever to remain in control and be consistent with discipline. Again, first and foremost make sure your child is in a safe place, but do not be scared of what your child may do. Choose a special time out location with lots of pillows for the persistent, physical tantrums. Do not give the tantrum undue attention or give in to whatever set the tantrum off in the first place or you'll be sure to reinforce your toddler's actions. Do not react with surprise or shock or your toddler will realize that he's on the right track toward altering your behavior rather than you altering his.

These time outs will not harm your child, either. Just the opposite, they will reduce the undesirable and possibly harmful behaviors your child is exhibiting. Just be sure that you're aware of the difference between a simple frustration tantrum and one that is designed to manipulate the situation to your toddler's advantage and treat them accordingly.

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