Help! It's Another Tantrum
SourceSue Dinwiddie MA Human Development
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You hear screams and howls! You watch fist flail and feet kick. Overwhelmed by tension, confusion or helplessness you think, Oh no! Another temper tantrum! What do I do now?"
You may be relieved to learn that you are not alone in being bombarded with temper tantrums. Great fury from small beings is common from the second year of life through age four. There is good news! Some simple techniques can help during this period of development.
The first step is to understand which kind of tantrum is in force. Is the tantrum manipulative, verbal frustration, or temperamental? Manipulative tantrums occur when the child does not get her own way. It will stop when it is ignored. The child erupts, the parent calmly walks away. Before long the tantrum subsides, and the child sobs into contrition. Some parents prefer to remove the child to her room, "When you are through with your tantrum, you may come back and join us."
Young children don't actually plot out, "Okay, I'm not getting my own way, so I'll throw a fit." They fall apart without thinking. But if the parent gives in to stop the tantrum, the behavior is rewarded and reinforced, leading to tantrum blackmail. Unless the child is hurting himself or another, explain why you cannot satisfy your child's desire and offer an alternative. Beyond that, grit your teeth, breathe deeply, and try to think of something pleasant, while occupying yourself with an activity.
Ignoring is difficult if you are on an outing. If you are at the park or a friend's house, explain why you couldn't satisfy the request, and bring the child home. "Climbing the spiral slide is not safe. You could get hurt. When you scream and yell, we have to go home. We'll come again another day." The grocery store is the most challenging time to deal with a manipulative tantrum. Step out of the checkout line temporarily with your child, "Excuse me, I need to deal with this . Go ahead of me, please." Ignore the looks of others. If they haven't been through this ordeal, they've never had children. Their approval is irrelevant. Try offering your child another alternative; if that fails, explain that you will wait with the child until she is back in control. Unless you want to replay this scenario on each shopping trip, do not give in to the demand. As you plan your next shopping trip, let your child know that you will be going alone. After your child has missed one shopping excursion, try again. Before departing, explain your expectations, "I am going to the grocery store. You may go with me, but we won't be buying you anything. However, you may push the basket ."
A second type of tantrum is the verbal frustration tantrum. These tantrums occur when the child knows what she wants but lacks the verbal skills to communicate clearly. Frustration boils over, and the drama begins. Ignoring these tantrums makes the child even more frustrated. Validate the anger by helping your child label her feelings. Then problem-solve: "You are feeling mad and pulling at your stomach. I wonder if that belt it too tight?" If you are lucky, your child will nod yes, and you can offer help. "We can loosen that belt." If you guessed wrong, ask the child to show you what is bothering her or to point to the problem. Verbal frustration tantrums subside as children's communication skills improve.
A third type of tantrum occurs when the child's frustration level reaches the rage stage, and he becomes totally out of control, falling apart emotionally. This is the temperamental tantrum. The child may be too tired or tremendously disappointed. As with verbal frustration tantrums, temperamental tantrums are seldom cured by ignoring. The child can rarely gain control alone. Feeling irritable, cross and excitable is scary, confusing and disorienting for children. It is difficult to concentrate and to regain control. Even if they don't ask for help, these children need it. The following techniques can help your child regain composure.
One or more of these additional strategies can come in handy:
Tantrums can be as hard on parents as they are on children. Evaluating the situation at a nontemper time can strengthen coping skills.
If your child's tantrums are extreme and frequent, if you are finding it difficult to control your own anger, or if abuse is involved or even a temptation, get some outside help. A few sessions with a therapist can give you a fresh perspective with some successful coping methods.
Books to Read and Discuss with Children Crary. Dealing with Feeling Series: I'm Mad and I'm Frustrated. Parenting Press, 1992. 800 992-6657. (Two paperback books for ages 3 to 6.)
Preston. The Temper Tantrum Book. Viking, 1969. (Humorous book for toddlers and preschoolers.)
Dealing with Anger
Beekman and Holmes. Battles, Hassles, Tantrums & Tears: Strategies for Coping with Conflict and Keeping Peace at Home. Hearst Books, 1993. (Chapter 1,3, and 11 deal with analysis and suggestions for helping children deal constructively with anger.)
Chess and Thomas. Know Your Child. Basic Books, 1987. (Landmark thirty year New York Longitudinal Study of children with specific temperamental characteristics.)
Eastman and Rozen. Taming the Dragon in Your Child: Solutions for Breaking the Cycle of Family Anger, From Toddler to Teen. John Wiley & sons, 1994. ( A little heavy on behavior mod, and I don't recommend using food as a reward, but lots of good analysis and ideas.)
Kurcinka. Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, Energetic. Harper Perennial, 1991. ( A positive approach for dealing with children who are often labeled as "difficult".)
McKay, etc. al. When Anger Hurts Your Kids: A Parent's Guide. New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 1992. (Analysis of family anger problems, beliefs about anger, and coping techniques for parents.)
Samalin and Whitney. Love and Anger: The Parental Dilemma. Penguin Books, 1991. (Identifies hidden sparks that generate frustration and fury in even the most well-meaning parents, offering positive alternative techniques.)
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