A tantrum is an outburst that happens when a child is trying to get a thing he wants or needs. They can involve spectacular explosions of anger, frustration and disorganised behaviour – when your child ‘loses it’. Tantrums are exceedingly common in children, especially between ages 1 and 4. Tantrums may happen when kids are uncomfortable , tired or hungry; or because they can’t get something (for example, an object or a parent) to do what they want. Strong emotions – worry, fear, shame and anger can be overwhelming for children so sometimes they throw tantrums as a result. For example, your child farts in public and everyone around laughs at him. Some kids with learning and attention issues are more prone to tantrums. For instance, some can be impulsive and have trouble keeping their emotions in check. They may get angry or frustrated quickly.
A child may have a tantrum if he wants to have a cookie and you decline. Or he might get upset when you pay attention to his sister and he wants your attention. Yelling, crying or lashing out isn’t an appropriate way for him to express his feelings, but he’s doing it for a reason. These kids have control over their behavior. You must want to ask me how that can be. A child can stop in the middle of a tantrum to make sure you’re looking at him. When he sees that you’re watching him, he may pick up where he left off. His tantrum is likely to stop when he gets what he wants—or when he realizes he won’t get what he wants by acting out. If you’re the parent of a young child, chances are you’ve suffered through your share of tantrums. When a toddler is crying, yelling, and thrashing around, or kicking and hitting you, you feel pretty helpless.
You’re standing in the snack aisle of the supermarket. Lying at your feet is your toddler , who has just been informed (by you) that, no, she cannot have the cookie she wants. Her face has turned a shade and has a frown of displeasure. Her fists are pounding the floor in fury as she emits a shriek that can be heard in the farthest reaches of the next building. The other shoppers are gaping at this spectacle as you wish desperately for a hole to open in the floor and swallow you up. Many parents have had to go through this and trust me, it can be tiring.
Learning to deal with frustration is a skill that children learn over time. This is because children’s social and emotional skills are only just starting to develop as they grow. Children often don’t have the words to express big emotions. They want more independence but fear being separated from you. Toddlers want independence and control over their environment — more than they may be capable of handling. This can lead to power struggles as a child thinks “I can do it myself” or “I want it, give it to me.” When kids discover that they can’t do it and can’t have everything they want, they may have a tantrum. They are also discovering that they can change the way the world works. So tantrums is one of the ways that young children express and manage feelings, and try to understand or change what’s going on around them.
Toddler tantrums are one of the most challenging aspects of parenting. We tend to feel like good parents when our toddlers are smiley and at ease, but can feel helpless and overwhelmed when they are lying on the floor kicking and screaming. However, believe it or not, toddler tantrums are an important part of our child’s emotional health and well-being, and we can learn to be calmer in the face of them.
YIELDING TO TANTRUMS?
Every parent feels agitated at public tantrums, for obvious reasons. You worry other people will think you’re a bad parent—that you’ve raised an out-of-control child. But that can tempt you to make choices that will only lead to more outbursts. “Kids, even very young ones, are smart. If you get angry or stressed or cave in and let him get his way just to end the tantrum before more people start staring, he’ll learn that—awesome!—it works.” When you yield in, they see it as a way to communicate their emotions to you and that means more tantrums. Some kids at age 6-10 still throw tantrums because most of them have not be taught the right way to regulate their emotions. Tantrums are even more frustrating when your child is past the age when most kids grow out of them.
Kids who throw tantrums past the typical age may have found that it works for them so it is better to deal with tantrums at kid’s early stage. If you’re giving your child what he wants to end the tantrum, you’re inadvertently reinforcing that behavior. Such child will keep at it.
Does your child at age 6-12 throw tantrum when he doesn’t get his way, or something is particularly hard for him? He may need help learning to manage his emotions and communicate his feelings in a more grown-up way. You may need to make sure you’re not unintentionally responding in a way that encourages him to keep doing it.
To help him, you’ll need to do two things: First, understand where this behavior is coming from—what’s triggering it. Second, you’ll need to help him develop the skills he’s lacking, instead of reinforcing his less mature tantrum behavior.
A child throwing a continuous tantrum may seem like he’s just trying to manipulate you. However, they may have learned, through reinforcement from adults, that tantrums get results. Kids who haven’t outgrown tantrums do have lagging skills in emotional regulation but then I think that weakness is maintained and intensifed by conditioned learning. If a child encounters a problem, doesn’t know how else to handle it, and resorts to tantrums, he may well learn that, over time, this helps him get his way. It becomes a rigorous cycle instead of honing and practicing the skills that kids normally learn to solve problems collaboratively. These kids are learning that throwing a tantrum is a viable way to escape a situation that’s upsetting them.
In my next post, I’ll be sharing ways to tame your kid’s tantrums. Help a parent going through this phase of parenting by referring them to this post.