Child tantrums and adult tantrums


Melissa Martin, Ph.D.



Do you have a temper tantrum over your child’s temper tantrum? When your child is rolling around on the floor and crying, the main thing is for the parent or guardian to stay unruffled. Take a few deep breaths. Check your emotions and your reactions. Is this a tantrum that can be ignored? It is less difficult to ignore a tantrum at home as opposed to being in the middle of a busy grocery store.

When a parent gives into a tantrum, the child learns that it works. He will continue to try it because it worked once or twice in the past. When a parent erupts with yelling, threatening and grabbing the child, he learns that adults can have a tantrum but children cannot, and he becomes confused. Is the tantrum intensifying as you are ignoring it? Calmly remove the child from the situation and take him into the bathroom. Stay there until he is composed. The bathroom is not fun and he will associate a tantrum to being removed from the colorful and interesting store.

What is the purpose of a tantrum for a 2-year-old? It is a way she vents frustration. Examine each tantrum. Is the child tired, hungry or sleepy? Is the family going through a stressful time? Lean down and use a soothing voice tone. Rub her back and validate her feelings, “I know you wanted that cookie and you feel mad about it. Let’s calm down together. You will get a cookie after dinner.”

Children live in the present moment, “If I don’t get that toy right now, then I will never get it!” Parents need to stay unflustered with a low voice tone and a neutral face expression, “I can see that you are really mad because you wanted that toy. You can play with your own toys when we get in the car.” Carry a small toy from home in your purse or pocket and offer it to your child when in a public place. If she throws it, calmly pick it up and put it away. “Oh, you’re throwing that toy instead of playing with it. Let’s blow out your mad feelings together.” Children need repetition and consistency in order to learn to manage their emotions. Praise your child for calming down, but do not offer a reward. Instead say, “I like how you calmed your feelings and your body.” Children learn that a tantrum in the store followed by calming down will produce a treat later and they may purposely detonate.

Evaluate tantrums. Is it an oppositional tantrum? Is the child deliberately challenging you to a power struggle? Do you have a strong-willed child? Again, the parent needs to stay calm by acting and not reacting. Statements from an adult like, “You can make me so mad. Why can’t you just stop it! I’ve had enough of you!” need to be avoided. Children mirror adult emotions and reactions and are likely to intensify their own feelings and negative behaviors. An explosive parent may produce more anxiety in a shy and less outgoing child. Helping your child to learn and practice emotional regulation is the role of a parent.

I suggest that parents use picture books to help children understand feelings and manage behaviors. The Best Behavior series contains several books that use simple words and full-color illustrations to guide children to choose positive behaviors. Visit www.freespirit.com. “Move Your Mood” by Brenda Miles and Colleen Patterson invites kids to twist, wiggle, shake and hop as an active way to teach children about emotions and moving the body to manage moods.

By 3 years of age, the tantrums are usually less frequent and less intense. Children are learning to use language to put basic feelings — mad, sad and scared — into words. Children are role-modeling the behaviors of adults and older siblings and learning what is socially acceptable in their home, preschool, society and culture. If a child continues to throw intense and consistent tantrums at age 3, a visit to a child therapist is suggested.

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Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com.