It’s a familiar scene: You’re standing in line at the grocery store, almost finished checking out. For the fourth time in a row, your child asks for a piece of candy strategically placed at kids’ eye-level in the checkout line. You’ve repeatedly said no, when suddenly, the tantrum starts.
His legs and arms flail, and then he lets go with an ear-piercing scream and begins hitting the floor. Meanwhile, between muffled apologies and frantic bagging, you attempt to get as far away from the store as possible.
Take a breath. I am not recommending ‘giving in’ to your child’s screaming demands for candy! You will be doing him a disservice, even if you think you are solving the immediate problem. Children need parental control. They need parental control to feel safe and secure, to know that their parents are not going to allow behaviors that harm them, even from themselves.
strong>Why do children have such loud and embarrassing temper tantrums? And what can you as a parent do to help make them stop?
One important fact to recognize is that we all have temper tantrums occasionally. Think back to the last time you felt frustrated trying to get your printer to work. You may have thrown something, yelled out loud, or even sworn at it.
This is basically an adult tantrum. The screaming, crying, and hitting that your young child shows is their version of a tantrum. Kids are no different than us; they get frustrated and angry too
A temper tantrum is a sudden, unplanned display of anger. It is not just an act to get attention. During a temper tantrum, children often cry, yell, and swing their arms and legs. Temper tantrums usually last 30 seconds to 2 minutes and are most intense at the start.
Why Temper Tantrums Occur:
“Prior to one year, a child is not physically capable–nor does she have the intention–of throwing a tantrum,” says childcare manager Beth Urquhart. But around 12 to 18 months, parents will start to notice a difference between distressed crying and a temper tantrum.
At this age “acting out” isn’t about getting attention. Early temper tantrums are an emotional outburst that occurs when a child becomes frustrated. “Toddlers are trying to become independent and accomplish tasks and communicate on their own,” says Urquhart. “But they have limited language skills and this can be a frustrating time for them.” Acting out is their way of expressing their frustration.
Temper tantrums are also a way for kids to communicate and express confusion, anger, and even sadness. A parent should first find out if a temper tantrum is a temper tantrum or if it is a more serious issue that is surfacing. Young children between the ages of 2-6 often times use temper tantrums to tell their parents that something is wrong. Kids 7 and up usually only use temper tantrums as a way of getting attention. Now, the reasons may vary as to why the temper tantrum is used depending on the child and the situation but one thing needs to remain changeless… how you deal with it.
You can’t prevent all tantrums, but you can reduce the odds of your child having one if you follow these suggestions:
- Make sure your child is well rested, especially before a busy day or before a lot of activity. Keep a daily routine as much as possible, so your child knows what to expect.
- Avoid long outings or keeping a child out late beyond her bedtime. If you have a trip, bring along your child’s favorite books or toys for entertainment.
- Encourage your child to use his words to describe feelings.
- Let your child make choices when possible. If your child resists taking a bath, you can be firm about the bath, but you might ask which toys he would like to pick to bring in the bath.
- Allow transition time when changing activities. If your child is having fun, he will need some time to switch gears when he must change to another activity. For example, if he’s playing as dinnertime approaches, give him a five-minute notice that you will be eating soon.
Pay attention to what situations push your child’s buttons and plan accordingly. If he falls apart when he’s hungry, carry snacks with you. If he has trouble making a transition from one activity to the next, give him a gentle heads-up before a change. Alerting him to the fact that you’re about to leave the playground or sit down to dinner (“We’re going to eat when you and Daddy are done with your story”) gives him a chance to adjust instead of react.
Your toddler is grappling with independence, so offer him choices whenever possible. No one likes being told what to do all the time. Saying, “Would you like corn or carrots?” rather than “Eat your corn!” will give him a sense of control. Monitor how often you’re saying “no.” If you find you’re rattling it off routinely, you’re probably putting unnecessary stress on both of you. Try to ease up and choose your battles. Would it really wreck your schedule to spend an extra five minutes at the playground? And does anybody really care if your tike wears mismatched mittens?
When you go out pack your purse. Toss in a few crackers, a piece of cheese, even occasionally, one of those hideously bright colored plastic toys from the kid’s meal at the local fast food restaurant, a few wet wipes in sealed packets for wiping messes off that sweet face, and patience. Always pack patience! Don’t think of the treats as bribes, think of them as rewards for expected behaviors. Think of them as inducement for continued good behavior, because your child certainly will. Be sure, when doling out the treats, to casually mention the reason, “Daddy really likes going places with you, Joshua, when you act like such a big boy and are so fun to be with!” or “Joshua! Thank you for behaving so well! You are great!” and eventually, (sometimes, not even all that long) Joshua will become accustomed to self-control and the confidence it brings.
And, the most important tip:
Never overreact or lose your temper yourself! Not only does losing your own temper give your child the concrete proof that temper tantrums work, but it totally destroys your parental credibility! Also losing your temper during a child’s temper tantrum does nothing positive, creates MORE emotional damage and wears you out! 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.
Kids may be especially vulnerable after a tantrum when they know they’ve been less than adorable. Now is the time for a hug and reassurance that your child is loved, no matter what.
“It sounds crazy, but when my daughter’s 4-year-old throws a tantrum, she stops what she is doing and gives her big hugs. It works almost every time — if she can control her own temper and anger to remember to give her a big squeeze. she says it makes her feel safe and reminds her about how much she loves her. Normally, after a big hug, then they can talk more rationally and address what started the tantrum in the first place.”
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Thing To Remember
- Don’t frequently rely on providing a distraction for a young child. Teach the child not to throw tantrums, and he will more quickly develop other coping mechanisms.
- Don’t cave in just to avoid embarrassment, which also teaches the child to perform for a crowd. Although parents feel as though all eyes are on them, when their child acts up in public, the reality is most onlookers are saying, “Go for it,” when they see parents setting reasonable limits for their child.
- Never surrender to your child’s temper tantrums at home. Learn to handle them at home, and you will have fewer occasions to be embarrassed in a public place.
- Never hit a child, or become physically or emotionally violent in response to a tantrum. Children need a comforting presence to help them exit tantrums, and violence produces exactly the opposite effect. Most importantly, becoming violent will teach a child violence is an appropriate response to stress.
- If your child begins hitting or causing damage during the tantrum, simply pick the child up in a firm, non-violent manner and place the child in their room. If the language capabilities are up to it, let the child know they can rejoin the family when they have decided to talk things out instead of throwing the tantrum. Don’t tell the child to “be quiet”, or “calm down” as this just represses emotion and causes unexpressed anger to build up over time. Simply separate them from others, in a safe environment, until they have decided to handle things rationally.
- Tantrums typically appear at age 2 or 3 and start to decline by 4.Twenty-three to 83 percent of all 2- to 4-year-olds have occasional temper tantrums.
- Make sure your child isn’t acting up simply because he or she isn’t getting enough attention. To a child, negative attention (a parent’s response to a tantrum) is better than no attention at all. Try to establish a habit of catching your child being good (“time in”), which means rewarding your little one with attention and praise for positive behavior. This will teach them that acting appropriately makes mommy and daddy happy and proud, and they’ll be anxious to do it again and again.
When to Call the Doctor
You should consult your doctor if:
- You have questions about what you’re doing or what your child is doing.
- You’re uncomfortable with your responses.
- You keep giving in.
- The tantrums arouse a lot of bad feelings.
- The tantrums increase in frequency, intensity, or duration.
- Your child frequently hurts himself or herself or others.
- Your child is destructive.
- Your child displays mood disorders such as negativity, low self-esteem or extreme dependence.
Your doctor can also check for any physical problems that may be contributing to the tantrums, although this is not common. These include hearing or vision problems, a chronic illness, language delays, or a learning disability.
Remember, tantrums usually aren’t cause for concern and generally diminish on their own. As kids mature developmentally and their grasp of themselves and the world increases, their frustration levels decrease. Less frustration and more control mean fewer tantrums — and happier parents.
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