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Little Kids...Big Temper Tantrums!!!

Just yesterday, and interestingly as I was writing this blog, my son (6 years) and daughter (4 years) were happily playing a game of Snakes and Ladders.  My daughter lost the game…and then…all hell broke loose!!!   She had a meltdown - she was angry, screaming, inconsolable, and unwilling to listen to anybody.  

She was having a Temper Tantrum!!

Most of us who have cared for a young child are likely to have experienced this - an otherwise well behaved child suddenly screaming and kicking in frustration or anger when having a temper tantrum.  

When these tantrums show up in public, it can also be embarrassing.  This is especially so when it gets caused by the smallest of reasons or sometimes for absolutely no reason at all.  Friends may try to comfort your inconsolable child or strangers may just stare at you and your child.  Whether or not there is judgement in their stares or words, often its feels as if our parental skills are being “judged”. 

As parents however it is very important to remember that these temper tantrums are completely normal and should not be viewed as a reflection of your parental skills or your child’s discipline. It is a normal part of your child’s emotional development.

So what really is a Temper Tantrum?

Experts agree that a temper tantrum in young kids is a normal response when something blocks them from gaining independence or learning a skill. They are still learning effective communication skills. Their language skills are still developing. So even though your child may be able to talk quite a bit he/she may still not have the ability to construct complex sentences and more importantly, may not be able to express emotions or feelings through language. 

This frustration or anger tends to manifest itself into a Temper Tantrum.

When a child is having a tantrum the impulsive reaction as a parent may be to scold the child or to threaten him with a time out or other forms of punishment or to distract with a reward like a candy or a toy. However the problem with temper tantrums is that the child experiencing it is not in control of his emotions and therefore rationalizing, explaining or threatening may not be effective.

So what can parents do??  How can parents effectively deal with a temper tantrum? 

Here are some of my tips:

  1. Prevention is better than cure
    Tantrums commonly occur when a child is tired or hungry. This is one of the easier and simpler things to do is to proactively address.   Make sure your child gets adequate sleep daily. Stick to your child’s routines and schedules.  Avoid planning an intensive activity during or around your child’s nap time.  If you are outdoors or visiting friends, always carry a few options of healthy snacks for your child. If your child does not like the food outside at least he can fill his stomach with the healthy snacks you carried for him. A well-rested and well fed child will generally be in a better position to deal with the demands and stresses of the day
  2. Stay calm and ignore
    Sometimes the best thing to do is to ignore the tantrum.  Ignoring the tantrum does not mean ignoring your child.  If your child would like you to hold him then do that.  But avoid lecturing your child on appropriate behaviour and labelling your child as “bad girl” or “good girl”.  Be there for your child, stay calm, and ignore the tantrum.  Let your child feel supported and loved…and naturally calm themselves down.  If you are in a public place, or with friends and family, it is best to take your child away from the watching crowds to a quieter place where your child can vent out without the embarrassment of an audience watching him/her.
  3. Proactively distract
    If your child has had a tantrum or two in the past, you may be able to sense it when he/she is about to have another one. If you see one coming, quickly distract your child with a calm activity like reading a book, singing a song or just handing him his favourite toy.  Give him a drink of water and a snack if you suspect he is hungry.
  4. Talk afterwards
    Once the tantrum is done with and your child is calm, use the opportunity to quickly address the behaviour without judgement. Help your child to articulate and express his feelings. Avoid judging or telling the child how everybody perceived his behaviour. Listen and let him feel supported. If he is old enough to understand then let him know how he can approach a similar situation next time.
  5. Don’t reward the behaviour
    Your reaction as parents also matters. If you indulge your child or try to give him everything he started screaming for, then the chances are you will continue to see episodes of temper tantrums continue and perhaps even increase as your child grows older. 

So in summary, don’t worry too much if your child occasionally displays a temper tantrum.  It’s just part of growing up.  But do monitor your own reactions during the episodes.  Making your child feels supported and helping him/her understand their own emotions will help in the long run.

Please do share your experiences of temper tantrums with your child and how you approached it and what may have helped your situation.