Temper tantrums in children


Everyone’s temperament varies in different situations. It is all right to get annoyed and upset occasionally; however sometimes it may acquire very drastic proportions in children in the form of a tantrum. Children get frustrated very often but they don’t have mature methods of expressing their frustration. When they are tired of the worldly annoyances, and cannot put up with them anymore, they express their feelings through a tantrum.

What is a tantrum?

A tantrum is an outburst; usually an attempt to express emotional discomfort with an idea or task that may have been allotted to the child. It may be the child’s tactic to get attention when it is otherwise missing. A tantrum may be associated with screaming, yelling, crying, banging oneself on the floor or violent body movements (depending on the level of stubbornness and rigidity in the child). It may last a few minutes, sometime even hours. Sometimes even when the demand is fulfilled the temper tantrum continues. Temper tantrums in children manifest differently at different ages. They can range from mellow whining and crying to screaming and breath-holding spells. Boys and girls both express tantrums equally, although boys tend to present more often due to greater aggressive outbursts. The little infant may be tired or hungry or is just simply trying to seek the parent’s attention. A toddler may have expressed a desire for a new toy, which the caregiver may have denied him of; or the preschooler may be upset because his mother didn’t cook the food of his choice. Any thwart to a child’s demands is perceived very negatively and it can culminate into a tantrum.

Why children tantrum

Children usually have a pattern and rhythm for expressing tantrums. All children are self-focused (this is normal narcissism). When they needed to be fed, cleaned and comforted while they were infants; parents always gave into every demand right away; likewise in their developmental process they get attuned to that 100% attention at all times and wish that their desires be fulfilled. When this requirement is breached, they choose to express their discomfort in some or the other manner. Children were not born with tantrumming ability. They learned it along the way. A tantrum gets them attention. Their purpose gets mitigated. They realize that tantrums are a good means to fulfillment of demands. And the behavior continues over and over again in a structured repetitive pattern. If only parents were more cognizant of this pattern, they would take better steps to prevent the conditioning process.

The terrible twos

Tantrums are more common at the child is nearing the second year of age: the common terrible twos as is widely known. It is a period wherein the child is beginning to understand language. A tantrum marks the ability of every child to understand emotions but it also delineates a lack of expressivity of emotion appropriately. As language develops children begin to express themselves better and incidence of temper tantrums then goes down.

How parents can (and do) contribute

Tantrums are generated by a pattern of faulty behavior reinforcement. And today outbursts are getting more common than ever before. Today 9 out of 10 children have trouble with tantrums. Throwing tantrums is easy all the child has to do is squeal at a great frequency so that the threshold of the parent is crossed and the demand is given into (presuming that’s the pattern that the parents are continuing to follow). All of us have limited thresholds and after a hard days work it becomes difficult to endure the trouble that kids offer; so parents tend to give in. But this behavior is adding fuel to the fire of tantrums, which is thriving. The response of most parent to a tantrum is with punishment. This qualifies as negative attention; for a child, this better than no attention at all. Hence the tantrums only increase.

Do something

Persistence of tantrums into older age is deleterious to the child’s overall development since it influences the psychological, social, and emotional make-up in totality. MINDFRAMES offers behavior modification techniques in order to make the parent-child interactions more desirable. Then the tantrums gradually diminish, positive interactions thrive and children express themselves more maturely. This requires effort from the parent as well as the child to empower him/her to face and deal with the incessant challenges of life.

Classic temper tantrum

Typical tantrums involve:

  • Crying
  • Sulking
  • Screaming
  • Threatening
  • Head banging
  • Flinging things
  • Choking pretense
  • Violent movements

Parent Dos and Don’ts

Things that you need to do during a temper tantrum. These are not easy but this is your part as a parent.

  • Make eye contact with your child
  • Seem nonchalant and unaffected
  • keep your cool and ignore them
  • Refrain, resist and hold on strong
  • Watch your own temperament
  • Do not give into the demands
  • Do not hit the tantrummy child
  • Do not get exasperated or tense
  • Do not make tantrums a ‘hot topic’

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I not react to a tantrum?
Not reacting is part of the treatment plan. If you react, the child gets the attention which is what he/she wants, and the purpose is fulfilled.

Frequently Asked Questions

We always give into demands as the tantrum is unmanageable.
By giving into the demands, you are adding fuel to keep the fire burning. If you keep giving in, the child knows that a tantrum is the only way to have his demands met so he will stop asking you courteously and resort to throwing a tantrum always.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is punishment a good technique?
Punishment brings in negative attention which is attention for the child nonetheless. Staying calm and relaxed during a tantrum; and using smart behavior modification techniques like time out and omission training is a good solution protocol to follow for tantrums.