It doesn’t matter if it is a 10 year old girl, a 3 year old boy or a grown man or woman; tantrums are undesirable effects of unrestrained and uncontrolled anger. In the midst of a tantrum people are self consumed and irrational. When it is your child throwing the tantrum it can make you literally want to pull your hair out, especially since they always seem to happen at the worst of times. Whoever decided to put candy at the registers in grocery stores obviously didn’t have kids and definitely lacked compassion for parents who struggle to get through their day without tantrums.
There are parents whose children throw such eventful tantrums that mom and dad spend the good part of their day bracing themselves for the worst and silently praying that the day goes off without a hitch. There are other parents who laugh and giggle, point and video tape these tantrums thinking they are just the cutest thing! News flash, they aren’t! Worse allowing children to constantly throw tantrums and get their way in the process sets up a vicious cycle of behavior that quite frankly wont work in the real world.
First, understand what a tantrum is. It is a burst of anger and frustration felt in a moment of self righteousness. Children react to circumstances with tantrums initially because they don’t understand their feelings, feel their ‘control’ has been taken away or lack the abilities to express themselves otherwise. This is why it is important to pay attention to when your child throws a fit. If every evening you experience a witching hour in your home that extends way past colic, chances are there are trigger factors going on that make your child feel powerless. Perhaps they are too exhausted or perhaps there is too much going on and they feel neglected. Children need, crave and must have attention in order to thrive and for millions of kids, there way of grasping this attention is through negative behavior. After all, it works. Regardless of what you are doing, when you child throws an all out tantrum, throwing spoons and all you probably react! And that reaction is exactly what they are looking for.
If you realize a pattern to your child’s tantrums then you must try to understand their feelings in those moments and what actions you can take to make things run more smoothly. Many children quite simply don’t transition well from one activity or scenario to the other and when they are forced to do so without warning, they react badly. By helping children know what is up and coming, what to expect in the next hour or so you can greatly reduce their frustration and experience less transitions. The same holds true if you notice that every time you go to the park or to grandmas your child turns into the poltergeist. If this is the case, then rationalize the activity beforehand explaining what sort of behavior you expect and most importantly (listen carefully) what the consequences are should they become out of control. When you do this and follow through, you are sending a very clear and direct message to your child that their tantrums are not behavior that is going to work.
Another very significant point to remember is that tantrums and childhood do go together. They are the way children test boundaries and limits and a behavior that you can use to help them developmentally. However, you have to be in control. This means that you have to pretty much NOT REACT at all to the tantrum. Don’t feel intimidated by it or embarrassed. If you are in public and your child is throwing a tantrum ignore the slanted glares of others and do what is right for you and your child. Don’t yell at them, don’t praise them, and don’t shame them. The easiest thing to do is tell them very directly that you will not engage in the tantrum and until they act differently you will not talk to them. Tell them succinctly and tell them only once! Then, let them turn red and dry heave or act as if they cannot breathe. Eventually they will come out of it. No child has ever been harmed by throwing an hour long tantrum. If you are at home, simply pick them up or send them to their room and close the door behind you. Then take a deep breath and put on headphones or something so you won’t be tempted to intercede and blow the whole gig.
When the storm is over, it is the time for words. This is where you are critical. Help them find the words to describe how they feel and help them develop more positive alternative ways that they can react in the future. Find something that works for your child and when they remember it next time praise them for their self control. When a tantrum is over, it has to be over! You shouldn’t brood about it or discuss it throughout the day holding onto your own frustration. Far too many parents hold silent and long lasting tantrums of their own due to their own frustration. Remember that you are an example.
How your child deals with emotions is largely dependant upon how you allow them to deal. If the tantrum works and you will do anything possible just to silence them and appease them you will have a lifelong relationship with tantrums and be unable to give your child the tools they need to learn self control. This can be catastrophic as they get older. If tantrums continue, then you may want to consider secretly video taping the tantrum and showing it to them when they are calm. Children can learn a lot from watching their behavior first hand, but definitely don’t make a motion picture production out of the event.
What your child needs most is a parent who stays in control. A tantrum could quite easily be the antonym to the word control and this is the perfect remedy for diffusing the ticking time bomb. When you show that you are calm and that you are un-phased by your child’s ill behavior you will reflect a certain energy that will help to slowly but surely take the fire out of the event. Your child is actually relying on you to do so. The last thing a bad situation needs is an adult who loses their temper due to embarrassment, frustration, anger or exhaustion of their own. In the face of things to come and the larger picture of life, tantrums really aren’t as big a deal as you may think and when handled properly they can be minimized and insignificant in your life.