Wednesday, September 12

How to Behave When Your Child Throws a Tantrum

Temper tantrums in children can happen anywhere but supermarkets and department stores seem to trigger these spectacular outbursts more so than other places. How do you behave when your child throws a tantrum?

children and tantrum behaviour
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I saw a Dad and his toddler go through one of these events the other day.The Dad picked him up from the trolley and sought to soothe him speaking in low tones. But he slithered out of his arms and hit the floor kicking and screaming. What the Dad did next won my respect. He just sat down on the floor next to his live wire son and looked calmly at him. His gaze had a tinge of compassion almost as one that would be directed at a drunken buddy who had lost it. He didn't say a word; just sat there completely present yet silent

Soon enough the party aisle went quiet and all was well as the father son duo moved along to checkout speaking in low tones to each other engrossed in a world of their own. There was no wringing of hands, dramatic statements, or apologetic glances directed to passers by. It was just another day in the lives of those two who understood each other perfectly.

Do not use brute force to suppress a tantrum

Don't go all out exerting control and power just because you can. Medieval practices of spanking and belting are really not an option. These days, kids are already belted by junk food, environmental pollution, technological glut, chemical cleaning agents, genetically modified food, a lifestyle that coops them up indoors in synthetic environments, and being brought up by single parents who have plenty on their plate. What they need more than anything is emotional well-being.

Parents have to manage tantrum behaviour

Before language acquisition, you are your child's thinking brain. They depend on you to do their thinking for them. They depend on you not just for food, water, and safety but also for the regulation of their emotional needs. So the soothing of their feelings of frustration, fear, being overwhelmed or frightened is your responsibility. It is the parents' job to anticipate, recognise, and act to prevent escalation.

Be empathic and show your concern

This might be hard to believe but a toddler does not throw a tantrum for the heck of it. There's always a reason that gets them started. Analyse, find, show concern, and show your child you're trying to help. Where that's not possible, like wanting the moon or something similar, be empathic. Tell him how you'd always wanted to be James Bond, but it never worked out. A child is not a criminal mastermind who embarks on premeditated tantrums for the sheer pleasure of tormenting parents and caregivers. Although if not addressed promptly and intelligently when it begins, it may indeed lead to such a state of affairs as they grow older.

Check your signals; are they setting off his tantrum triggers?

Your tone of voice and choice of words can sent signals to a sensitive child making him defensive and touchy. This could work out to be negative reinforcement that has the child prepared to throw a tantrum at the drop of a hat due to an implied suggestion that this may be expected of him. You behave or we won't go to the park this weekend. There is an implied threat. The child focuses on the park bit rather than the admonishment to behave. 

The important message he gets is that the trip to the park may not be happening for some reason. The park is his priority while the behaving is the parent's priority. So if he believes that the park trip is under threat he is not going to be quiet and accepting of it. He is going to show you just how upset he is and this may trigger a tantrum at the slightest provocation.

Tantrum behaviour in the older child

If your child continues to throw tantrums even after toddlerhood, it signals the child's rooted belief of not being heard or understood. Examine why this is so. Were her needs attended to within a reasonable period of time during her infancy? Has she had to act out before she was fed, cleaned, picked up, etc.? If you believe this was the case when she was a baby, it's still not too late to work on gaining her trust and confidence. Once she learns she can depend on you to take care of her needs without her having to throw a fit, she'll calm down. While you earn her trust, you can also bring it up and talk about it.

how to behave when your child has a tantrum
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With an older child, spend an afternoon together doing stuff she likes. Engage in a light-hearted game and when completely relaxed, 

  • gently bring up her tantrum behaviour
  • why she does it
  • explore other ways of expressing her feelings
  • say you understand how hard it must be to feel that way and act that way
  • how hard it is for you to see her that way
  • how can we change this?

It is important to be engaged in a game while discussing this because it takes the attention away from the child's behaviour. It helps her open up. The emphasis is on the game; the talk is secondary. Pay attention to the child's body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and words used. This may help you find out the causes behind her tantrum episodes. Older children who have become accustomed to throwing tantrums for whatever reason may benefit from meditation techniques that help calm down and better manage their behaviour.

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