Causes & Solutions
By Noha Abu El Sitta
Having a child throw a temper tantrum in a shopping mall or at a restaurant is a fear lurking in any parent’s mind when taking their children out. We read different analysis as to why tantrums happen and contradicting advice on to how to deal with them. Advice that is sometimes practical, while impossible to practice at other times. So what is a tantrum and how can we avoid them altogether?
A tantrum is simply an expression of anger in an explosive way. This anger may have many root causes such as:
- Suffering from a physical pain that some children can’t really identify or recognize, such as being tired, hungry, or starting an illness such as flu.
- Feeling bored yet helpless to do something about it.
- Being unable to control the people around them and/or their environment, in addition to not being able to fulfill their need and/or wants.
- Being unable to fulfill their own unrealistic expectations in relation to their capabilities (such as not being able to ride a 2-wheel bike while they were expecting it to be a piece of cake).
- Needing attention when they are not getting enough of it thus feeling insignificant and frustrated.
- Suffering from intense emotions such as a sense of fear, rejection, not belonging or lack of power.
- Not being able to fully express themselves due to their yet developing vocabulary.
So how do children behave during a tantrum?
These explosions can happen in so many different ways. The loudness of the voice is usually the worst part of it for so many parents because it makes communication impossible. The most common ways of throwing a tantrum are:
– Throwing themselves on the floor while kicking it hard.
– Screaming their heads off until they turn red or almost lose their voices.
– It can also go to the extent that they would make themselves throw up or even hold their breaths until they turn blue.
At what age do tantrums start?
Anytime between 10 months and 5 years. It is commonly more intense at the age of two though.
How can we deal with a child having a tantrum?
There are so many ways to deal with a tantrum and they vary in their level of effectiveness according to the child’s personality, his/her age, the kind of situation we are in and the intensity of the anger inside him/her.
The most important thing of all is to be kind yet firm during the episode. Here are a few suggestions that you can learn through trial and error when to use which:
- Ignore the child while he is having the tantrum. Ignore doesn’t mean take revenge or give him an angry look. It means: do not give in: Do not give him/her what you refused to give before the tantrum as a means to calm him/her down. After the child calms down, give him/her a hug and say: “I can see you are angry. I wish I could help make you feel better. Let’s see what else can we actually do instead.”
- With young children, try “distraction attraction” where you distract the child by engaging him/her in a different activity or in something else such as: “oh look at this glittery book!”
- If your child would let you: hug him/her and sing a song or keep on repeating loving words to him/her like, “I love you dear” while patting him/her on the back.
- During the tantrum, you can actually tell your child: “I can see that you are very angry. I can’t really hear your words while you are shouting. It is okay to let it out and when you calm down we will talk. I love you honey.”
- After the tantrum is over you can simply ask your child: “Can mommy give you a hug please?”
Things to do to control the frequency of daily tantrums:
– Try to lower your child’s susceptibility to what triggers his anger. For example you can’t expect your child not to throw a tantrum if he is hungry or sleepy and you take him out for a long shopping day.
– If you are planning to take your child out to sit and chat with your friends at your favorite coffee shop, be prepared with exciting activities for your child to do such as: coloring books, play-dough or anything else that is interesting to him/her so you avoid him/her getting bored and starting a tantrum.
– Lower your expectations and be realistic about your child’s capabilities. It really helps to read books about a child’s emotional and mental development at different stages of their life so you know what to expect and learn how to deal with it.
– Give your child the power of choice when you can, to avoid power struggles. Let him/her choose between a few acceptable options, for example, if you want your child to put on a jacket, ask: “Which jacket would you like to wear today, this or that?”
– Try to create a daily routine for your child so he/she knows what to expect and when.
– Be a role model for your child. How do you express your anger? They mirror us.
– Unplug your children from screens. Watching cartoons or being hooked up on pads can increase your child’s restlessness and moodiness in addition to teaching him/her ingratitude and impatience.
What shall we try to avoid doing during the tantrum?
– Punishment, threatening, blaming, hitting, lecturing and shouting back: all these make your child more frustrated and angrier. This can either encourage him/her to elongate or intensify the fit or suppress his/her feelings inside which causes more severe psychological and physical illnesses.
– Worrying about other people’s judgment about you. We’ve all been through this and it’s not anyone’s right to judge the other, really. Focus on your child’s best interests instead. This is what matters the most.
– Don’t fight anger with anger, or aggression with aggression with aggression. This will only increase the fit.
– Lack of consistency: This only confuses the child and encourages him not to give up on his/her tantrum because it does work sometimes.
– Giving in! This will definitely have a wonderful short term solution: He will quit and you’ll get back your peace of mind, but on the long run, it will turn the tantrum into a tool that he will keep on using to get what he wants no matter how old he is.
It is very important and comforting to know that rarely any parent or caregiver can escape this phase. There is nothing concrete that we can or shouldn’t do to ensure that we are immune to it. The only thing we can do is to contain it so it doesn’t last longer than expected or become severely intensified.