Tantrums are like tidal waves. You see them coming a mile away and hope to avoid them if you swim to the shore fast enough.
Some parents become so immune to them that you see them staring blankly at their screaming or flailing child with a resigned and long-suffering expression on their faces in the middle of the mall – waiting for the tide to dip. You see some parents dragging their kids out by the arm as quickly as possible, and then others pleading or bribing their kids, speaking to them frantically in hushed voices with eyes darting around everywhere.
Too much kindness to a baby can result in a whiney, dependent, failed human being, while a balanced approach can actually develop a sense of self-expression, creativity, independence, and confidence.
Tantrums are normal for kids aged 1-4 years old. At this age, toddlers are naturally curious and want to explore the world around them by touching, tasting, listening and generally running around everywhere causing havoc and rapid heart palpitations. These tantrums can include anything from whining to screaming, crying, falling to the floor, thrashing about and sometimes even holding their breath.
These tantrums are usually caused by multiple factors such as immaturity to handle disappointment, communication barriers, impatience and a natural desire for independence. If your child is four years or older and has very frequent and long-lasting tantrums; violent outbursts or ones that result in the child harming themselves, then it is best for the parents to consult a family doctor or pediatrician.
Different parents handle tantrums in different ways. Some take the tough-love approach and let the child cry it out and some run to their child and do anything they can to quiet them down. While some sources encourage parents to just leave their screaming and kicking child to cry it out, others claim the opposite – calming them and talking to them instills self-comforting and self-independence mechanisms.
According to the journal Psychology Today, “letting babies get distressed is a practice that can damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term. We know now that leaving babies to cry is a good way to make a less intelligent, less healthy but more anxious, uncooperative and alienated persons…”
Threats usually don’t work out for either party as they can be far-fetched and unrealistic with parents threatening to never take them out again, call the police or kicking them out of the car. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying that you should stand by all their tantrums, however, your kids need to realise that there needs to be a valid reason to cry. It’s essential for self-expression and encourages a healthy outlet for emotions.
When dealing with tantrums, the first step is recognising when they are about to happen. Generally when children are overtired, hungry, feeling too hot, too cold, over stimulated and generally uncomfortable in themselves, their instinctive way to get your attention and change something in their environment is to throw a tantrum. So be aware of your child’s general comfort levels and give them what they need before they even realise that they need it. While some sources say that this pre-empting of your child’s needs is unhealthy, more up to date scientific studies say that giving babies what they need leads to greater independence later.
If a tantrum does come on, there are some approaches that more times than not help:
- Kneel down to be at the same level with your child – this is essential.
- Look them in the eye. Maintaining eye contact establishes focus and your eyes will have a calming effect on the child.
- In a firm but gentle voice ask them to stop crying/screaming/whining. You might have to repeat this a few times before they register.
- Either offer them what they want if it is within reason or distract them with an activity.
- Give them a hug and tell them it’s okay and then carry them off.
- Timeout has proven to be effective unless you find that your child spends more time in timeout than not! Timeout is a chance for kids to step out of the situation and quiet down.
If they are kicking and screaming on the floor in the middle of the mall and nothing is working, you might as a last resort, want to have a very special treat that you can offer to have enough time to haul them out of there.
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Nobody said it was easy. Hope you have a tantrum-free day!