Temper Tantrums And What to Do About Them

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Children typically begin having temper tantrums at around age two. While unpleasant, they are a normal part of growing up. This is the time in a child’s life when he or she begins to wrestle with a rash of new emotions. As children grow from being babies into more independent individuals, they struggle with autonomy and control issues. This is the ideal time for parents to learn how to deal with temper tantrums.
While they are still completely dependent on their parents for their care, they are also beginning to resent it, and to struggle for their own independence. They need their parents for everything, surprisingly, even to help them develop independence from the very parents that are helping them. Without the emotional protection of maturity, it is no wonder that the toddler experiences an exaggerated degree of frustration.

The frustration that children, teens and adults experience when they resort to tantrum throwing can eventually lead to bullying behaviors. Anger is one of the emotions that stems from frustration. Aggression is a behavior that can result from unchanneled anger. This can lead to someone getting hurt or property being destroyed. While it is perfectly normal to experience some degree of anger or frustration, excessive amounts of it used negatively may be a good indication that a real emotional problem exists.

Normally, tantrums begin to decline at around age four. However, teenagers and adults can experience their own versions of tantrums. In his book, “Why Do They Act That Way,” Psychologist David Walsh explains the biological reasons behind teen tantrums. According to Walsh, the prefrontal cortex of a teenager’s brain is still under construction during the teen years. This part of the brain controls impulses and moderation, and understanding of consequences. Couple this with surging hormones and the scene is set for highly emotional teens that can be prone to tantrums.

How parents choose to respond to the tantrums is tantamount to successfully controlling them. However, not all parents know how to handle temper tantrums effectively. Knowing where to start can be confusing. Parents can never begin too early to teach their children how to be assertive rather than aggressive. A compliment when the child displays appropriate behavior can go far, as can stressing the importance of empathy and understanding. Explaining how his or her behavior affects others can also be helpful. Children listen to these messages.

The precise incidents that cause tantrums may be seemingly meaningless to the adult. The sudden bursts of screaming, kicking, crying and demanding by toddlers are unpredictable at best. The sulking, stomping and door slamming by teenagers can be equally perplexing. It is not always feasible that the parent know how to do the right thing to avoid them. For instance, one day, a toddler might accept the fact that he or she cannot have a favorite sweet treat. The next day, however, a tantrum may develop from the same request that was perfectly acceptable the day before. On one day, a teenager might be perfectly contented staying at home with the family. On another night, he or she might throw a book across the room if not granted permission to go out.

Whether in toddlers or teenagers, experiencing tantrums result from the child’s pent up emotions. They can be exacerbated by simple physical symptoms such as being overly tired or hungry. This can cause the child to have trouble in accepting boundaries that are set forth by the parents, teachers and other authority figures. Tantrums can be sparked by any number of situations.

Setting Boundaries

Temper tantrums can be offset by parental intervention that is both firm and supportive. Children gain security from the clear boundaries that are set by their parents so long as are not too restrictive. Giving in and allowing the child to do whatever it was that caused the tantrum will only evoke confusion. When boundaries become blurred, the child feels less secure about what is and is not acceptable in terms of behavior. This, in turn, causes the child to be less sure of what is expected of him or her.

When a child throws a tantrum, he or she is actually seeking support, even though this may be difficult to interpret at the time. The screaming child needs to know that even though he or she is out of control, his or her parents are there to offer love and support and to help the child regain control.

How to Deal With Tantrums in Toddlers:

  • Remain calm and in control.
  • Acknowledge the upset to the child.
  • Do not use an angry tone of voice.
  • Do not give in to the child’s demands just to affect calm.
  • Show the child genuine care and concern.
  • Try to divert his or her attention.
  • After the tantrum, offer high praise, a hug, a ”high five” or a kiss.

The best consequences for tantrums should be logical and natural. The purpose of any consequence is to get children to make good decisions for themselves. It is not to mold them to the parents’ will. Parents should strive to be patient. Results do not happen overnight.

Using natural consequences for tantrums allows the teenager to discover the positive benefits of rules and order. The effective parent does not argue with, threaten or give in to the teen’s demands. Utilizing natural consequences helps the teen develop self-discipline and an emotionally secure inner-core. It also teaches them to respect order because it helps them live better lives, rather than out of a fear of punishment.

When teenagers are taught to develop skills that are useful to them as adults, they must also learn that when they go against boundaries or rules set forth by authority figures, something uncomfortable happens. The discomfort occurs naturally with natural consequences and need not be created by the adult in charge. For instance, the teenager that leaves his or her clothing scattered about on the floor of the bedroom will soon run out of clothing because it will not get washed. The teen that cheats when playing video games with friends, will soon discover that his friends no longer want to play the games with him or her because of the cheating. Natural consequences are the most logical and effective.

The child’s doctor should be called if the child hurts another child or pet, if he or she is completely out of control the majority of the time or if the child is school aged and has tantrums on a regular basis.

Depending on the individual’s stress levels, there are times when tantrums are much more severe than at other times. The child may pinch, bite or kick. Teenagers or adults may demonstrate reckless behaviors that can end up causing serious damage or even legal problems. Add physical, emotional or mental problems, and the tantrums can seem insurmountable. Being able to identify the trigger for the tantrum can help keep them in check.

Parents of children that have tantrums and siblings or spouses of older people that have tantrums can experience feelings of profound helplessness. Scientists have discovered that tantrums have specific patterns and rhythms. Once understood, parents, teachers and even bystanders can respond to them in more effective ways. Looking at the underlying causes of tantrums can also help clinicians detect the warning signs of underlying disorders.

A paper published in the empirical journal, Emotion, supports the hypothesis that tantrums in young children offer unique insight into the expression of and regulation of strong human emotions. Understanding this aspect of why tantrums occur, and the levels of intensity that are experienced, can help scientists gain knowledge about ways in which tantrums can be controlled long after an individual grows beyond childhood. There are some tried and true remedies that one can use to help keep tantrums in check when they are experienced by teenagers and adults.

Affirm the person’s feelings when he or she throws a tantrum. Make statements such as, “You are angry.” to show that person that he or she is being seen and taken seriously.

Refuse to accept unwarranted personal verbal attacks. State clearly that you will not tolerate that type of behavior. If they continue, leave.

Enact physical separation from the person that is throwing the tantrum. This is an ideal time to take a walk or to go for a drive to give the other person a chance to calm down. If the tantrums are frequent or have the potential to become dangerous, it is a good idea to make arrangements for a safe haven for escape.

Do not respond in anger. This can cause the problem to escalate. Speaking in a firm but loving tone and addressing the problem directly can help keep the problem at bay while teaching the children valuable life lessons. Redirecting the child toward a more positive endeavor can have a more satisfactory result, and can help the child be happier. Learning how to deal with tantrums is a most worthwhile endeavor.

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