How to deal with children’s temper tantrums
- July 13, 2017
- Posted by: gordon
- Category: Parenting Tips
Every parent knows about temper tantrums, but how many know how to manage them? We are asked a lot about tantrums during our parenting courses and we hear the struggles parents go through when their kids start to act out. They say they have tried everything – from letting them cryand walking away, shouting and commanding them to stop, and punishing the child for his/her behavior. Each case and child is different, so how do we know how best to handle a tantrum?
We need to start with objectively defining tantrums. According to Michael Thompson, PhD, a psychologist specializing in children and family, a tantrum is a form of protest that takes place when children feel they aren’t being heard. In essence, the underlying conflict is that the child wants something, and the parent is not listening.
Tantrums are usually first linked to the toddler years of development, generally 0-3 years old. At this stage, children lack the words needed to express themselves, so they act out physicall, instead. Tantrums evolve to whining (long, high-pitched cries) as the kids get older.
How to manage tantrums
Parents must work on themselves in order to truly be compassionate with their children, and it is especially important for them to understand their own feelings. It is difficult to be compassionate when your child hits the baby or family dog, or is being downright mean to everyone. It is understand for you to be able to manage and control your own reactions during these kinds of situations.
A child who is acting out or throwing a tantrum usually needs help. He is overwhelmed by strong emotions and does not know how to calm himself down. Crying, whining and throwing tantrums -all of these are a way for a child to meet a need, or solve a seemingly unsolvable problem.
Dr. Thomas Gordon, three-time Nobel Prize nominee and multi-awarded psychologist, recommends parents be “present” when their children are experiencing a problem, Get close to the child, make eye contact, and most importantly; listen. Give him your full attention and empathize.
By doing this, you get a better idea of what your child is feeling. And, by allowing your child to speak and, therefore, hear his thoughts out loud, he is able to think things through with greater clarity. This ultimately leads to greater self-awareness. In Gordon’s Parent Effectiveness Training (PET), this process is called Active Listening. This skill allows parents to comfort their children and help manage their emotions.
Parenting experts all agree that it is important to accept, rather than dismiss your child’s feelings – even if they are unreasonable. “We live in an emotion-dismissing culture,” says John Gottman, PhD. “But, if you would like greater awareness about your child’s emotions and your own, particularly subtle emotions, this prevents them from escalating unnecessarily.”
Tantrums, whining, and flat-out rebellion are behaviors often exhibited by children who feel disconnected from their parents. Therefore, the importance of having a strong connection to your kids is paramount.
However, when life gets crazy and difficult to manage, finding time to connect can feel overwhelming. It can become another task on the to-do list rather than something to be cherished and enjoyed.
If connection has become a chore, or if you feel like you could use a little refresher on connecting with your kids, focus on the items below. These are based on recommendations of Dr. Thomas Gordon and Dr. Aletha Solter, PhD, a developmental psychologist and parenting expert.
- Understand your child, and take time to study his behavior. Notice times during the day when they seem most open to connection – are they more affectionate at night or during the day? Notice which interactions they seem to enjoy most – are they generally active or calm; silly or serious? Over time, you may begin to realize when things are a little off; they may simply require a little more attention.
- One-to-one time. This is essential for establishing a deep connection with your children. Make time for this even when it is inconvenient. For some kids, bringing up a difficult topic can be nerve-wracking. If they are brushed aside, this may cause them to hesitate to bring up difficult topics in the future. Importantly, try and engage in enjoyable activities which will lead to growth and nourishment of your relationship.
- Be genuine. Kids don’t always need super mom to “fix” everything. They don’t need you to say the perfect thing or do something magical to make everything okay again. They just need to know that they are loved. You may fail at understanding their emotions; you may act silly when they wanted to be serious, or vice versa, but that’s okay. Relationships are a constant work in progress. Apologize, and try again.
Tears and tantrums are built-in healing mechanisms that help children overcome the effects of stress of not being able to solve seemingly serious problems. Acceptance of strong emotion is an essential ingredient in unconditional love and healthy attachment. As Dr. Thomas Gordon has aptly stated in his book:
“It is one of those simple but beautiful paradoxes in life: When a person (child) feels that he is truly accepted by another (parent), as he is, then he is freed to move from there to begin to think about how he wants to change, how he wants to grow, how he can become different, how he might become more of what he is capable of being.”