The fits of pique that often befall little ones can be frustrating to adults - what is there to be so angry about, after all, when you have us there to cater to your every need? But there is a complex psychological process at play whenever a toddler starts resorting to screaming, crying and yes, even kicking and throwing things. Rather than respond emotionally in turn, experts recommend remaining calm and following some of these steps to dealing with a mounting temper tantrum:
1. Ensure they are safe
"Child safety supersedes everything," says Dr Sarah Rasmi, licensed psychologist and managing director of the Dr Sarah Rasmi Wellness Centre. If your toddler is putting themselves or others at risk, take them out of the situation, using gentle force if need be. "Children need boundaries and limits, but - contrary to popular belief - they don't have to be set harshly," says Hand in Hand Parenting's Zsuzsanna Egry. "A loving 'No, I am sorry, I cannot let you do this," with a firm hand is all that is necessary."
2. Check in with yourself
Assuming your child is safe, check in with your own feelings first, says Dr Rasmi. "If you're feeling frustrated, then you might want to ask someone else to step in. If that's not an option, then a few deep breaths can help you burn off some of the cortisol coursing through your own body."
3. Look at it from their point of view
The next step would be to try to understand your child's perspective, says Dr Rasmi. Are they feeling confused, scared, or angry - and why? Or perhaps they are hungry, thirsty, tired or getting sick? All of these things can help us to understand our child's behaviour.
4. Offer reassurance, but be realistic
Offer gentle touch, eye contact, be close by, but do not expect your child to stop the tantrum right away, says Egry. "He may need a lot more time to clear the hard feelings before being able to think again. Provide kind reassurances to create a safe place in which, if he needs to, he can fall apart, and then put himself back again."
5. Don't try to stop it
"We have been trained to think that our role here is to try to stop the tantrum," adds Egry. "So we try to talk our child out of it. But the more we talk, the less we really listen, and the more difficult it is for our child to complete his healing process."
6. Validate their feelings
Reflecting a child's feelings back and labelling them can ensure a child feels heard and lessen frustration. "Every minute or so we can drop an empathic 'I am sorry it is so hard', or 'I am here to care for you'," says Egry.
7. Don't be afraid of their emotions
"When we allow children to get rid off their difficult feelings through crying, they come back to their loving, better selves without any 'disciplining'," claims Egry. "It makes parenting very difficult if we just want our 'no' to be respected, but we don't want to hear any of the upset that follows. In doing so we demand our children carry their bag of emotions around without ever giving them an opportunity to relieve the tension. So saying our "no" and allowing them their feelings will make life much easier for both of us."