Mommy Tantrums: How To Tame Them

Meltdowns in children aren't uncommon, but have you ever witnessed moms throwing tantrums? Well, once in a while, moms do flip their lid too! Why does this happen and what causes it? We find out...

By Mauli Buch

Mommy Tantrums: How To Tame Them
Lack of self-care can trigger a mommy tantrum

Keeping calm at all times while raising children is next to impossible. In fact, on second thought, I think it is impossible, as the following incident will prove.

Nina, a mother of two — with an eight-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son — had just resumed full-time work. Tired after spending a hectic day at office, Nina wanted to reach home as soon as possible and rest for a while.

She rang the doorbell and her daughter opened the door with a smile. Nina smiled back and hugged her daughter. But, as she stepped in, she got the shock of her life.

The drawing room was a mess! It seemed like a war zone. Clothes, toys and craft items were strewn about everywhere. As Nina stood motionless trying to make a sense of what she was in the midst of, her son came running to her. He had painted his face with her lipstick and kajal to look like a Red Indian. As he came close, she realised he had also used up her expensive perfume. And, this proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back.

Nina lost her cool. "What have you both done? Do you even know how to behave properly?" she yelled. Throwing her handbag on the sofa, Nina stomped off into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.

What is happening with Nina?

Does reading about what happened with Nina leave you with a strong feeling of déjà vu?

As it may have happened with you, Nina too exhibited one of those infrequent, yet familiar, uncontrolled outbursts of anger and frustration. Such behaviour usually stems from the emotional distress an individual experiences.

Nina's behaviour can also be labelled a 'Mommy tantrum'. It is when moms experience bouts of anger, frustration, and sometimes guilt, for not being able to handle a situation appropriately.

What causes a mommy tantrum?

Nothing happens without a reason. This holds true for mommy tantrums as well. Let's look at some likely causes.

  • Anxiety: This can be major contributor to tantrums, especially in the case of those moms who have struggled with it all their life. And, recurring thoughts like 'Am I doing things right?', 'Why is my baby crying frequently, is there something wrong?' only serve to increase the feeling of anxiety.
  • Irritability: Most first-time, moms experience feelings of irritability. This is because the path to motherhood and beyond can be challenging to say the least — with all the changes taking place in the body as well as life, in general. This may make a mother short-tempered and prone to snapping at those around her.
  • Mom guilt: This feeling makes its way into almost every mom’s mind. It often makes moms ask themselves uncomfortable questions like, 'Do I play with my child enough?', 'Am I handling my baby’s tantrums correctly?', or 'Am I a good mom?'
  • Mood swings: After giving birth, new moms go through a drastic changes in hormone levels. This can make them experience a wide range of feelings in the first few weeks. The quick mood variations can also lead to mommy tantrums, which can sometimes feel baffling and overwhelming.
  • Neglecting self-care: Books on pregnancy and care for the newborn focus mostly on how to take on the role of a new mother. However, very little is said about the importance of self-care. As a result, while mothers shower their babies with love and care, they sometimes fail to pay attention to their own health. They forget the fact that a healthy mom is usually a great mom. Emotional distress associated with poor self-care can trigger many a mommy tantrum.
  • Lack of solutions: Mothers are often experience stress when they feel that their child may be adversely affected because of factors beyond their control. Being unable find solutions to problems can also lead to mommy tantrums.

Taming the tantrum

Situation 1: Going back to Nina's story, do you think she could have handled the situation better?The answer is 'Yes'. Nina could have used a positive approach. This is what she needs to do:

  1. Calm down: Nina could have taken a step back and paused to analyse the situation and approached it in a calm manner.
  2. Communicate: Instead of scolding her children, she could have empathised with them. She could have told her son that it wasn't a good idea to paint his face using her cosmetics.
  3. Engage: Finally, Nina could have engaged her children in cleaning up their mess and setting the house in order. This would have kept them occupied and given her some time to rest as well.

Situation 2: Nina is feeling terribly guilty after her angry outburst. What can she do to remedy the situation and prevent such incidents from happening in the future?

  1. Don't blame the child: The situation worsens when parents tell their child how disappointed they are because of him. Or, say that they do not approve of his behaviour. Saying such things hurts a child. Nina could have told her children, “It is not a good idea to throw things around the house. Also, painting the face can cause skin rashes. So, can both of you help me set things right?” It makes a huge difference to a child when he is not blamed. It also makes him more willing to listen to what the parents are saying.
  2. Reconnect quickly: The sooner parents reconnect with the child after reprimanding him the better. In Nina’s case, something as simple as giving a hug and a kiss or saying, “Mama is tired. She is very sorry she shouted at you!” could help.
  3. Understand the root cause: Nina now needs to reflect on what the real problem is. She could ask herself questions like, 'Was my son painting his face really all that bad?', 'Was he distressed or was he having a good time?', and "Was my outburst a result of the messy home or did my long work day add to all stress?' It is important for parents to understand when they are more vulnerable to anger. This is so they don't transfer their negative feelings to the child.

Expert tips from Dr Meghna Singhal

How to put a lid on it

Are you also a mother who faces similar issues? When you feel the anger, frustration, and irritability rising, here’s what you can do:

  • Pause. Say out aloud, 'Mama is so upset, I’m going to calm myself down by taking a few deep breaths'.
  • If you are still upset, give yourself a time-out and move to another room. Tell your children, 'Mama is angry and so I’m going to another room to calm myself down. I will be back in 10 minutes'. Use the time to soothe yourself back to normal.
  • Tell yourself it’s okay if things aren't perfect. So what if the house is not clean or if the children eat only curd rice for dinner. Everything cannot be perfect all the time.
  • Recognise that most of what we say to ourselves, such as, 'My husband is not supportive' or 'My children just don’t listen to me' are broad interpretations of a situation. And, such statements may not help you understand the real issue. So, learn to make these more specific. For example, 'My husband is not supportive for night duties, but pitches in by playing with the kids' or 'My child is spaced out sometimes and may not hear me'.

Tips on what to do in the longer run

  • Lower your expectations: There is nothing like a do-it-all mother. In a day, you can only do so much. For example, if you prioritise your child’s health, don't be hard on yourself even if the house is messy. It's alright.
  • Connect with other moms: Talking about shared struggles with other mothers may help you feel validated. It may also give you an idea of how other mothers manage their schedule.
  • Share your feelings: Connect with your friends on a regular basis to share or simply talk about your daily lives. Maintaining social connections doesn’t take up much time and is a reliable way of preventing an emotional pile-up deep within.
  • Confide in your spouse: Work out ways in which he can contribute to the household by taking up the responsibility for chores and looking after children.
  • Practise self-care: It’s a good idea to take regular breaks so you can focus on your mind and body. Take care to eat healthy and get adequate, restful sleep. Choose activities that can be accommodated within your regular schedule, such as yoga or joining an exercise class. Or, take up anything else that makes you feel calm and happy — even sipping coffee while reading a book or listening to the music you love, makes a difference.
  • Show compassion to yourself: Be realistic about the tasks you can get done in a day. Be kind to yourself. Tell yourself that you’re doing the best you can for your family.

When to get professional help

If you find yourself often getting upset, frustrated and angry... or if you have frequent emotional outbursts, seek professional help. You can contact a clinical psychologist or counsellor to help you cope more effectively with stress and negative thoughts. This can help you set realistic goals and respond to situations in a positive manner.

With expert inputs from Dr Meghna Singhal, a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and a parenting consultant at ParentCircle.

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