Temper Tantrum Trouble!

Is your toddler eating your head with all his tantrums? Here are ways in which you can deal with the same.

By Malini Gopalakrishnan

Temper Tantrum Trouble!


Just when everything seems to be going smoothly for you and your little one, along comes one of those awful tantrums! The nightmare of every parent, they have a way of snowballing into a meltdown for all involved! Delhi-based psychologist Dr Ripan Sippy gives us some insights on how to tiptoe around those terrible tantrums!Your child’s toddler years means you are off on a roller-coaster ride – as you face those tantrums.

As the ‘terrible two’s’ turn your little angels into fiends, all you can do is to not pull out what is left of your hair. The good news is that while temper tantrums are a huge roadblock, handled with reason and tact, they pass quickly enough to leave no scars!

You scream, I scream!!!

You are in the supermarket and your two-year-old is sprawled on the floor, red-faced, screaming her head off and pounding the floor with her little fists. People are staring while you helplessly try to grab the little monster and cart her home. All this over a pack of candy!!! So, why is it that children suddenly lose all control and fly into such a rage? What causes temper tantrums?

“Temper tantrums can start occurring from the age of 7 months onwards, when a child may start holding his breath and stiffening his body. But in most cases these behavioural issues peak between the ages of 2 and 8 years,” says Dr Sippy. A typical temper tantrum is when the toddler experiences a sudden fit of rage seemingly without reason or prior warning. Children between these ages are usually able to understand most of what is said around them but do not have the ability to express themselves quite as succinctly. Sounds frustrating?

It is.When a child is unable to get to something, learn a skill, perform a task or have his demands granted, he is often unable to express his dissatisfaction. Another contributing factor is that toddlers have no real perception of emotion. They do not completely understand why or what they are feeling, which leads to not being able to express themselves clearly. According to Dr Sippy, children indulge in these fits to acquire something, to escape an unpleasant situation, to get attention or to communicate feelings they can’t express. The result is the meltdown we see, the screaming, the yelling and the tears (Oh, how much tears!). These base problems are aggravated by factors such as lack of sleep, hunger, stress or being unwell.

The calming touch

When the storm breaks, it can take any form. While some children scream and shout, others might pelt you with sharp little blows. On almost every occasion the exhausted, panic-stricken and usually clueless parent will step up with nothing short of a meltdown of their own. Now, as the old adage goes, two wrongs do not make a right, two tantrums do not end a fight! Trying to counter your child’s fit of rage with one of your own only goes to worsen the situation. Threats, spanking and pleading are of no use either.

The only approach that works is a calm one. First, breathe! Realize that temper tantrums are a natural part of your child’s emotional and mental development. Stop beating yourself up over it. While speaking to your child, keep your voice as calm as possible (this is the hardest part!). If you are in a public place, excuse yourself as soon as you can. The most important thing is to not make a big deal about the tantrum. Since a tantrum is, first and foremost a shout-out for attention, it is very important to establish right away that throwing a fit will not get them any. While shouting and hitting back at the child will only cause the meltdown to spiral into something much bigger, giving in to and appeasing your child’s demands shows him that a tantrum is a good way to get what he wants.

Dr Sippy counsels, “Parents need to first explain why they don't feel it reasonable to fulfill the tantrum. Ignoring (this includes not talking, looking at or gesturing till the child quietens down) is usually the best way to get a handle on this situation.Parents should be consistent in their actions, i.e. they should stick to what they have committed to, for as long as possible. They also need to be careful that they do not ever fulfill the demand for some time after the tantrum. Finally, instead of giving the child a special treatment/attention give him a small task to do, once he/she is quiet after a tantrum. Upon its completion reward the child with love and praise.”

As with everything else, communication is a key element. Talk through your child’s outburst. Tell him that if he wants something or is upset, screaming about it is not going to help. Explain that you will not be able to understand his needs or help him if he keeps it up! If he refuses to listen, put him in a quiet corner where he can cry himself out. Stay close by so that you can prevent any mishaps and be there when he wants to come to you.

Keep the coast clear

Borrowing the old adage, ‘Prevention is better than cure’, rather than waiting for the lid to blow, there are small things you can pay attention to and avoid the meltdown altogether. Here are a few tips:

Be in control: Children, most often, reflect the behaviour they see around them. Take a moment to think about how you react in a stressful situation. It is also important that you maintain this composed exterior when your child is throwing a tantrum (even though you are going to pieces inside).

Don’t push it: Know that children have limits that they don’t realize. So be firm about not stretching play time and resist the urge to squeeze in a trip to the supermarket after a long day.

Avoid triggers: This is especially true for slightly older children with whom it’s easy to observe a pattern. You will be able to figure out the kind of situations that end in a big bawling session! For example, avoid taking your child to a big toy store if you know she will end up screaming even after you’ve bought her two toys (or ten!).

Give them a heads up: Sometimes it’s the adults who need to communicate better. Help yourself and your children by preparing them for potentially tricky situations. If you are going to take them for a haircut or to see a relative, tell them firmly and casually what exactly they can expect, like,“We are going to the hairdresser to get you looking smarter. Weren’t you complaining about your hair falling into your eyes?” Knowing what is going to happen lends a sense of security to the child.

Be firm: Let the child know that rules are rules. Make a pattern of sticking to your word and also to your rules. So, if you have a ‘no candy’ policy, make no allowances, since this confuses the child. Similarly, if you have promised a trip to the zoo, make sure you see it through.

Use distraction: If you feel like you are turning the corner to a nasty flare-up, change tracks. Distract your child with a toy or another activity or simply relocate, to calm him down before he really loses it.

Teach good communication: Children are essentially not the masters of verbal communication. In calmer moments, teach your child to use phrases like, “I’m hungry,” or “I feel tired,” to express how he feels.

Says Dr Ripan Sippy, “As with any behavioural issue, the resolving of temper tantrums requires the family to take a united stand about giving in to tantrums.”Quite true. Such a stand is certainly essential. Parents should also bear in mind what Rebecca Eanes, founder of positive parents.org and author of the best-seller ‘The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parenting’ said in her book - “Tantrums are not bad behaviour. Tantrums are an expression of emotion that became too much for the child to bear. No punishment is required. What your child needs is compassion and safe, loving arms to unload in.”

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