Many parents tell me that their child is behaving differently at preschool and/or daycare and it’s quite often the complete opposite to what they’re doing at home. For example a boy in our Possum room will eat his vegetables at daycare but will refuse point blank at home! Others will prefer to stay in nappies at school but use the toilet at home, and vice versa. This can be due to a number of things but mostly we find that the children are learning how to be social and interact with others and things that they are wary of at home can be long forgotten as they’re so busy doing activities with their friends here at Columba Cottage.

“My child has tantrums at home but his educators tell me he’s an angel at daycare!”

We do hear that toddlers will have tantrums at home, behaviour that we don’t see here at daycare. Our response is simply that all children are different and will mature at a different rate. Tantrums can involve crying, screaming, stiffening limbs, an arched back, running away, kicking or hitting. Some children will hold their breath or even vomit. Tantrums generally occur from one to three years of age although can continue until preschool.

If your child is having tantrums, the first thing we do here at Columba Cottage is to find out why they are upset. Tantrums often occur due to lack of self-regulation in toddlers. Toddlers generally have few problem solving skills, and when they get frustrated, stressed, hungry, tired, over excited and any of dozens of triggers, toddlers can have difficulty expressing their feelings and controlling their reactions to those feelings. A toddlers social and emotional skills are only just starting to develop and children might not have the words to express their emotions.

As a parent or caregiver, there are many things that can be tried to alleviate the tantrum:

  • Stick to a routine. Regular, predictable times for meals and naps are essential. A tired or hungry toddler can be very close to a tantrum.
  • Offer the child sensible choices. Instead of “Would you like to have a nap?” try, “It’s naptime now. Which toy would you like to sleep with today?”
  • Try to prepare children by giving them warnings. Say to your child, “In five minutes we will need to clean up the playdough” or, “Bedtime is in ten minutes. Let’s choose a book to read”. Preparing a child by providing a warning will help children get ready for the change and give them a chance to finish up what they are currently doing. As toddlers play, they may already have a plan as to what they would like to do last – if you disturb them and they are unable to do their final thing, this can be disastrous to the child. You could also ask children “I wonder what we will have for lunch,” to allow them to participate in the selection and be prepared.
  • Try to observe when a tantrum occurs for a pattern or trigger. What happens before or after a tantrum? This can give you clues about how to avoid them.

As a parent or caregiver, there are also many things that can be tried to stop the tantrum that’s already started:

  • Firstly, stay calm. You can try to ignore the tantrum or try distraction. You can remove the child from the situation which caused the stress in the first place. Give them a hug/cuddle as you comfort and reassure them.
  • You can try to talk to the child after they have settled and try to give them the words to explain their feelings or give them a strategy they can use for the next time eg. if the tantrum was caused because their favourite blanky or toy was missing, when the child is calm explain how putting blanky away could have helped. Or suggest that if it happens again they ask Mum’s help to find it.
  • Give toddlers the words they need eg sad, to explain how they feel. Often when children have the word to describe the feeling, it helps them to better understand the feeling and also aids in controlling that feeling the next time it happens.

To inform parents of the their children’s learning, including social development, we write frequent observations which are available to parents and caregivers through Storypark, our app. Observations come regularly throughout the year and are supplemented by a Summative Assessment twice year. In Storypark parents can share and discuss any aspect of their child’s routine, development or anything happening at home that our educators can keep an eye on. Educators can respond privately and maintain the communication as the year progresses. It is important that if there are any issues, our educators are approaching them in the same way as at home.

“I was completely overwhelmed by the things that my son’s educator noted about his social development. Her report outlined a lot of things that I hadn’t noticed, or paid particular attention to. She detailed how children his age develop the ability to empathise and how Rocky is actually over sharing- he’ll give away his toys too much! Now I’m starting to know what to look for before a tantrum and I’m more confident that we’re doing the right thing at home in regards to sharing with his older sister”. -Emma W

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About the author: All round go-getter, Susanna Christie, is the Executive Director of Columba Cottage Early Learning Centre, where she leads a passionate team of 50 staff who love what they do, caring for children ranging in age from 6 weeks to 6 years. With a background in teaching from pre-school through to university, Susanna is passionate about all aspects of child development and wellbeing. Her qualifications include a Masters in Education, Bachelor of Teaching and a Graduate Diploma in Educational Studies. Susanna’s aim is to ensure that Columba Cottage remains the best Early Learning Centre on the Mid North Coast.