Updated: Nov 8, 2019
It's started, the lip goes, she looks at me accusingly, the legs stamp and the fists of fury come out. Volume and intensity are escalated and we are off. Tantrums. They all have them and its nothing to be afraid of, embarrassed by or feel like they or you are doing anything wrong. Tantrums are an expression of emotion that they can't tell you about. So they show you .
Usually with all of the above physical outpourings. And usually when things aren't going their way or as they planned. Tantrums can be triggered by ,
They don't like whats happening ,
You're not paying them enough attention.
They are tired / hungry / frustrated / hurt
Not feeling in control of a situation
They are feeling scared / insecure
You're not picking up their non verbal communications
Their emotional or physical needs are not being met
Or it could be you gave them the wrong coloured cup or made them wear pants on Tuesday !
Tantrums start a lot earlier then you thought and go on for a lot longer than you want. But don't lose hope there are ways of minimising them. Once you understand the root of the problem. You can help your child to find there way out of the emotions. Below are a few ways to determine whats bugging them.
Making an effort to pick up on non verbal clues- my wee one is 14 months old and very independent and head strong. She knows what she wants and is trying in all her capacity to tell me, but she's not speaking yet so I miss some of her cues. I have to make a very conscious effort to read her, so that it doesn't end up in a melt down. For example she was trying to leave the pool today. We have had limited success with swimming, she loves the water but doesn't want to do anything constructed like a lesson, so Im taking her myself. Today she was desperate to get out of the water, climbing out and trying to go to the change room repeatedly. And then started crying when I brought her back to the pool. She got angry with me and I misread the signs as she wanted not to swim. I finally relented after trying to say to myself she needs to push through this swimming barrier only to find she had pooped and bad and as soon as I had her cleaned up , she wanted to get back in the pool ! This was a lesson that she is trying to tell me something, her finally act of desperation to be heard was to cry. I now know I need to look at the situation closer and see if I can figure out what she needs verses what I want or I think she wants.
Wants and needs- like above tantrums are a final resort to getting the attention they need. But also we as parents need to learn that they learn pretty quick that they can have a wobbly and get attention they want. We need to learn the difference. We all know the difference between and want and need, I need you to feed me me verses I want that food. This goes for toys , your attention, etc. Do they need it or want it. If they are trying to get something they need , we need to help them achieve it. If they are trying for something they want , we need to figure out if it is really necessary ? Understanding this out helps with a lot of frustration on everyone's part. As if they need it, you can suss that out and provide. If they don't really..... Then there are ways of sidestepping the landmine that could be a brewing tantrum .
How to do this ,
-Listen to their cries. This is the most important. As you did when they were tinnie tiny , their cry is how you know what they want. Is the cry shouting or yelling , angry or long and whiny ? If the answer is yes, then they don't need what they want. This will be shown in their verbal and non verbal , ( like hanging off your leg ) communications. And can be draining of everyone. They are almost bored and hoping you will entertain them and usually at the worst possible times. Like dinner time for my wee one. Hear whether it's a true cry or a grizzle. Trust me your know the difference instinctively ! And can act accordingly.
Without giving in to her Ive found giving 5 mins of your time and acknowledging them can help give you 15 mins of doing what you need to do in relative peace and quiet. My wee one who is very independent all day sudden needs to cling to my leg and grizzle at me at meal time prep. I have found that in these times I need to push the dinner to an off element and sit onto floor for 5 secs etc to be at her level. She wants to know whats going on. Even when she doesn't want to play with me through out the day she needs and wants to know I'm available to her. Cooking I have my back to her, this seems to set her off ! So I either get on the floor for a few minutes. Or help to set her up with an activity, book, puzzle dolls, throw her in the ball pit which takes a few minutes for her to get out of !! Or we pop on music and dance around the kitchen , involving her in something while I chop on the bench. I have recently been putting a chair up so she can stand and watch me and once she is older, she will help. It engages her and teaches her all at the same time. This way she get my notice but not my full on attention and just because she is grizzling. I find it easier to side step the tantrum and clinginess with recognition of the situation. Once she is older I will get a bit more tougher as I will use communication instead to convey that she need to entertain herself. We will talk , but that I can't drop everything for her instantly upon demand.
But if the cry is real, pulls at the heart strings etc, then they have a need that is not being met. Usually about security , or feeling in control. They might be scared , or over sensitised. This is when you need to step in a help them figure the problem out and guide them. Your wee one is looking for your help, be it ignoring undesirable behaviour in them so they learn thats not acceptable or to step in and rescue them from a situation and lead them to safety physically or mentally. It can be showing them a different way to do things for a different result or scooping them up in your arms and restoring their confidence that they can do what ever it is thats perplexing them to melt down proportions.
-Are they looking over at you as they cry to see if you're watching ? If they are looking to see if it working then, this one is a just for attention tantrum and I find best to ignore it and them. If you run over / stop what you're doing , all you are doing is teaching them that all they have to do is fake it and they will get their way. I find it best to verbally acknowledge them in these situations. Say their name over and over in a bright happy voice. Give eye contact but don't as above get on the floor. This one you really don't want to stoop to their level.
- Can you distract them , with something else and the crying suddenly stops ? Until you can sit down and orchestrate a dialogue to find out whats wrong. I find an alternative is the best . Be a toy they wanted and can't have. Food they want and isn't really appropriate at that point (like sweets in the supermarket ). Find something else. Supermarkets have fruit baskets for kids and Mums to help themselves to or get them to hold the list and or food stuffs to keep them busy. A better or different toy will suffice until the desired one becomes available. Or a hug will be enough from you to help them feel secure before they trundle off to the next thing.
-Stand your ground, this is behaviour tuition 101 for you child. They are learning boundaries within themselves, their peers, their family and in the outside world. Its trail and error and hard and soft limits. Try to figure out what yours are beforehand and if you need to , hold your ground and more than anything be consistent. If you don't want them throwing toys or food or hitting something or someone. Then tantrum or not thats the rule. Everyone has their own in their families and you can feel free in copy or ignore them for your own ! I find it funny that in talking to Mums they always seem to default to some of the rules they hated as a child but now implement on their own kids. I swear I would never do that ..... Becomes I Swear by that ! Mine was walking around with food. I could never see the point in obeying this much to my step Mums frustrations. Now Im a stickler for it, even with my wee one. Im always telling her to sit down. The consistence part is vital. If you say one thing one day and not the next , it is mixed signals and that gives them a feelings of a loss of boundaries. They don't know whats what and can cause tantrums in themselves. It's a bit like routine , they like to know whats happening in their worlds so they can be secure in moving through it.
Try to preempt the melt down, by being a mind reader. I know this cant and should not always be done. But when they are young, and cant communicate or they haven't figured out that they want it all there way yet ! Try to be like a concierge in a hotel and meet their needs and wants and desires before they even know they have them. At the right time, have a snack ready before the blood sugar dips. Pop them in to bed for their nap before they rub eyes or loose concentration. Orchestrate activities , like a run around the garden, to be energetic when they have energy to burn and or quiet time , reading a few books, when they need a rest stop to regroup. I have found that if you cover your bases to the child's level of development you can hum along your day nicely without theses wee blips. As their needs and wants are being met. They don't need to misbehave or try to get attention. ( don't like word misbehave in a wee one, they're just act on what they know / feel in the moment and not trying to annoy you on purpose. Trust me I have teens and I would take a teenie tantrum over a chip on should / entitled teenager ANY day )
But sometimes, nothing is right and nothing will fix it as they themselves don't know what is actually wrong. There is just something and it gets blow out of all proportion. When not if WHEN this happens , you need to do and remember a few things.
Never tell them off , they are just communicating , by getting angry you make it worse. Telling them they are being silly, belittles their feelings and emotions. Every one gets frustrated at times and they are just exercising that in the only way they know how.
Find a safe space - sometimes it can get physical. Body thrashing, kicking, running away , punching . For your safety and theirs , find a corner where ever you are and put them there so they can just get it out of their system. NO Parent is ever going to judge you and forget those that give you a dirty look , they don't have kids !
Let it play out- if safe to turn your back on them if they are in super mode then do. I know this seems harsh , but there is no talking them down. Tantrums are like storms, it might get worse for a while, but they will literally blow themselves out without an energy from you .
Calm down - Once they have humped and are calming down , give them reassurance , they are not naughty just frustrated. Be it physical if you can or verbal cues that you're not going to give in, but you still love them and hopefully you can move on. Sometimes when they are older , they feel embarrassed of the outburst and it can make it worse if you make an example of it.
But tantrums are when communication has got lost in translation. So we as parents have to make sure that we give good boundaries, allow them choice so they feel in control of their worlds. For example they want a drink , you offer milk or water. They want juice, but not getting it , etc. They get to choose between the two and you're not putting your will on to them , but really you are as they are not getting the juice . We need to as much as we can in their fluid worlds, plan out times and places that are safe to do certain activities. Don't go shopping when they are tired or hungry , that goes for us too ! If on a play date , factor in a sleep time in the car before or after. Always have healthy snacks upon your person for blood sugar dips in the day. Carry a comfort item , like muslin with you so in situations where they feel insecure , they have a cape of strength in their item ! Trust me when children are happy, secure, fed and rested (just like us) tantrums can be maintained and sometimes defused !!
By having these weapons of parenting with you and on you. Looking and picking up their cues, listening to what they need and want, and having distractions and forward planning. Tantrums don't have to be a scary thing that is upsetting and humiliating for those involved. They are a part of life, and with communication, acknowledgement and knowledge on your part, can be a small phase not a big deal.
Batten down the hatches