Temper tantrums are a normal part of children’s development. They’re still learning how to process and react to emotions or outward circumstances. Feelings like hunger, frustration, anger, rage, or sadness can lead to outbursts as your baby tries to communicate what they’re experiencing since they don’t have the language adults to express themselves.
But on the other hand, kids can also quickly learn it’s a method to get attention and their way. While many different causes can trigger a tantrum, we’ll look at what to do if your toddler is using bad behavior to get the attention of a grown-up, a common sign to look out for, and parenting tips can help control and improve tantrums in the long run in your family.
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Signs your toddler is using tantrums to get attention
Parents can unintentionally reinforce negative behavior by giving their children attention or giving in to their demands during a tantrum, like offering them a toy or some kind of distraction. Signs and symptoms of attention-seeking behavior can be identified by evaluating what triggers the outburst and honestly assessing if there are times you give in to the child’s demands, exasperating the problem. Even if tantrums are only successful for a toddler a handful of times, it still becomes an expectation and learned behavior they’ll continue trying to use to get their way and your attention.
Ignoring bad behavior as a parenting strategy
Ignoring tantrum behavior is one of the most effective ways to decrease their frequency. Consistently choosing to ignore your child’s attempts to get attention by throwing a tantrum dismantles the negative reinforcement and puts the focus back on rewarding positive behavior. They’ll start to learn that tantrums aren’t the most effective way or the right way to ask for attention.
Ignoring a tantrum and bad behavior doesn’t mean you don’t love them or are neglecting your child and idly standing by. It’s managing behavior by taking all of your attention away from the attention-seeking behavior, knowing it teaches them things like screaming, crying, interrupting, or breath holding aren’t tools that should be used to get their way. Of course, if their behavior is harmful to them or to others, even destructive, it shouldn’t be ignored. More serious discipline, like a timeout, may be necessary.
What to do if misbehavior continues
If the meltdowns are continually damaging or harmful, and pose a serious safety risk, that’s cause for a discussion with your pediatrician to ensure nothing is medically causing the aggressive or excessive behavior, such as conditions like ADHD. Therapy may be the best course of action in the prevention of serious harm. A conversation with experts like a therapist or psychologist can offer personalized information and advice that will keep you and your family safe.
Experts say the most important thing you can do is stay consistent. Giving in once or twice may not seem like much to keep the peace, especially in public places like the store, but it could make your child’s behavior worse in the long run. By not reinforcing attention-seeking outbursts, that behavior should start to decrease.
Consistency is key, along with demonstrating calm behavior. As a parent, you have the opportunity to model what healthy and calm communication looks like, leading by example and helping your kid learn the skill of processing emotions.
Children are still learning how to identify and talk about their emotions and experiences, so while their behavior may be frustrating, it’s also normal and to be expected. You can act as their guide by giving them tools to understand and talk about their emotions calmly. This will not only help their behavior but develop their understanding and acknowledgment of how they feel and cultivate qualities like self-awareness and empathy.
Stay the course, be consistent in how you handle tantrums and outbursts, and you can drastically improve attention-seeking behavior. It can be stressful handling meltdowns as the caregiver, but the consistency and work will pay off.