I imagine most parents have had the pleasure of experiencing an all out, unhinged, ear-piercing case of hysteria (aka temper tantrum) from their little Angel. In public, with all eyes on the situation, it it becomes incredibly embarrassing!
I had such such a situation recently. At our local supermarket, my 3 year old went from calm and helpful to deranged, and incommunicable in 3 seconds flat! My usual approach is to ignore said tantrum, thus not fanning the flames so as to let it fizzle out. In this particular case however, he had planted himself in front of my buggy and with food isles surrounding me I was well and truly trapped. I’m proud to say I kept my cool!
Soon enough, a small crowd of well meaning old dears encircled me. They congratulated me on my calm demeanour (skin deep I assure you) and offered anecdotes of their own grandchildren, who were also “nightmares”! Finally as one woman had Santa Clause’s phone number, I thankfully gained enough leverage to leave the store! On an emotional walk home, the real root of the problem began to surface….. Hurt feelings from an unkind comment at play school. My heart broke in that instance, and I suddenly realised that this is going to be a more and more commonplace predicament of parenthood. We can never truly protect our children from a cruel and uncaring ( for the most part) world….
I diverge….. Back to temper tantrums!
Parents and indeed onlookers often view temper tantrums as intentional and manipulative. In the past, the term “brat ” was bandied around fairly frequently. Recent research however, has shown that it is much less voluntary than previously realized. However, that is not to say that there isn’t an element of learned behavior to it!
Children struggling with serious temper problems aren’t consciously calculating throwing tantrums, but they may have learned, through reinforcement from adults, that tantrums will get results!
“There’s no question that children who haven’t outgrown tantrums do have lagging skills in emotional regulation,” says Dr. Lopes, “but then I think that weakness is maintained and exacerbated by conditioned learning.”
Hia explanation highlights the fact that when a child encounters a problem and doesn’t know how else to handle it, they may resorts to tantrums. The child may well learn that, over time, this helps them get their way. “It becomes a vicious cycle,” says Dr. Lopes, “because instead of honing and practicing the adaptive skills that kids normally learn to solve problems collaboratively, these kids are learning maladaptive responses when they get frustrated. And by continuing to practice those skills, they are strengthening these behaviors over time and using them in a greater number of situations.”
WHAT CAN I DO?
Patience, patience and more patience. When a child looses control, it is actually a very frightening experience for them. If a parent or caregiver then looses control and shouts or threatens, it just exacerbates the situation. I certainly wouldn’t give into the child’s demands, thus enforcing the idea that tantrums get positive results. As there is no reasoning with them either I think it is best to calmly wait it out, and follow up with a little chat and lots of snuggles!
As adults, we are not immune to loss of control and angry outbursts. Some are more prone then others and although it is normal enough, it is rarely considered acceptable.
Interestingly, in the case of a child, tantrums are somehow seen as ‘red flag’ behaviour, in spite of the fact their brains aren’t yet wired or programmed in the same way that an adult’s is.
“There are two types of tantrum,” says psychologist Anna Hamer.
1. The most common tantrum for toddlers and pre-schoolers, is about power and control (eg. It has started raining and you try to leave the playground much to your child’s despair!)
2. In older children, they usually have a meltdown because they are overcome with emotion – anger, frustration, sadness – and do not yet have the biological or psychological tools to deal with it yet.
When a child becomes emotionally overloaded, they go into what’s known as the limbic brain, also known as the ‘hot’ brain because it’s the part that deals with emotions,” continues Anna. “It’s impossible to think logically when this happens – they’re literally out of their minds, by which we mean the ‘thinking’ prefrontal cortex, or rational brain. This is why it’s absolutely impossible to reason with a child who is in the grip of a tantrum. And if your child is hungry or tired, it exacerbates the situation – think about how you react to potential trigger situations in a low blood sugar moment or after several nights of broken sleep.”
WHEN SHOULD I WORRY?
It is important to note that temper tantrums may also the early signal of mental health problems. Here is a list of the key warning signs:
- Aggression toward caregivers, objects, or both. If this happened more than half the time in the last 10 to 20 tantrums, it may signal disruptive disorders. …
- Self-injury. …
- Frequent tantrums. …
- Very long tantrums. …
- Inability to calm oneself after a tantrum.
Always talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your little one. From talking with friends and acquaintances who have struggled with a wide variety of everything from anxiety to a whole spectrum of levels on the autistic scale. The earlier that children are diagnosed, the better their long term prognosis.
Let me reiterate by saying that most temper tantrums are stressful but completely normal! I’m just covering all the bases here!
As always , I would love if people could share their thoughts and experiences below! I’d be delighted to hear from you
Thanks for reading, Sara X