Temper Truths

By Dr. Selina Lin from Jiahui Health 2019-05-23 17:05:54

The truth behind tantrums from Jiahui Wellness Centre Shanghai

When you become an adult it almost feels impossible sometimes to look back and remember what it was like to be a child. As a parent you do want to best support your children through whatever problem they might face, however, it sometimes may feel like they are constantly trying to test you. One of the things most us dread and get stressed about is the temper tantrum, and with the many varying parenting methodologies out there it can be difficult to know what you should and shouldn’t do; that and the fear of getting it wrong… We took some of our readers questions to Jiahui Wellness Centre’s counsellors to get a better insight into tantrums and how to deal with them.

What constitutes a tantrum?

A Tantrum is an uncontrolled outburst of anger and frustration, characterized by stubbornness, crying, screaming, defiance, resistance to attempts of pacification and violent body motions, including throwing things, laying on the floor, and banging one's head, hands, and feet against the floor…

Tantrums are very common amongst children aged 1-4 years old.

Since the social and emotional skills of children are only just starting to develop at the age from 1 to 4, children often cannot use language to express their emotions properly. They want more independence, which also brings them the fear of being separated from their parents. Besides, children begin to discover that they can make the world work in the way they like.

Thus, using tantrums is one of the ways that young children adopt to express and manage their feelings. In this way, they also try to understand or change what’s going on around them. For example, one of my clients told me about his son, “He has temper tantrums if he can't get his own way”.

Older children can have tantrums, too. Not only because they haven’t learned more appropriate ways to express or manage feelings, but also because some older children might need to take longer time than peers to develop self-regulation.

Is there an effective way to manage a tantrum?

Although the temperament type of every child is different, there are some common steps/tips for you to manage your child’s tantrums.

Remain calm enough to handle the tantrum properly. The worst thing a parent can do is to have a temper tantrum over their child's temper tantrum! Children need a calming influence, especially during a tantrum. If you can’t provide that, you can’t expect them to calm down. (In other words, it is hard for children to calm down if their own parents cannot control their own temper.) Take a few deep breaths and wait at least a few seconds before deciding on a response.

Validate your child’s feelings — Remember that empathy doesn’t mean agreement. During a meltdown, your child will have an elevated heart rate, seem irrational and inconsolable, and become “flooded” with stress hormones (which trigger headaches and stomach aches for real!) Show empathy to your child. For example, if your child doesn’t want to go to school, you can say, “You don’t want to go to school today. Your tummy hurts and you feel like it’s the worst day of your life.” You can paraphrase a bit to link your child’s statements with “right now” and “you feel” so that you aren’t agreeing with the declarations.

Make sure the child has what he or she needs. Remember that your child's tantrum is not necessarily a way to "get his/her way", but could be the result of frustration, lack of needed attention from you, or even a physical problem, like low blood sugar, pain or digestive problems. Maybe your child is teething, has a dirty diaper, or needs a nap. In cases like these, don’t try to negotiate with the child, but simply provide what is needed and the tantrum will subside. It’s very common for kids to throw tantrums when they’re sleepy. A regularly-scheduled naptime can help prevent recurring tantrums if this seems to be the problem. When you’re out and about with your child, have a healthy snack available at all times, so he or she doesn’t end up throwing a tantrum out of hunger.

Wait out the tantrum. Stay close to your children so that they know you are there. But don’t try to reason with them or distract them. It’s too late once a tantrum has started.

Stand your ground. Don’t give in to tantrums, even when you’re out in public. Tantrums are so often about an underlying cause. If you give your child what they want or allow them to not do something they often try to avoid doing, when they have tantrums, you may only be encouraging “bad” behaviour without addressing the real issue. Your child has learned that tantrums are effective and efficient ways to obtain help or attention, or to delay or avoid something unpleasant. However, try to be firm whilst remaining sympathetic; remember your child is not doing this TO you.

Take charge when you need to. Some things simply must happen, even though your child is having a meltdown. Groceries must be purchased, car seats must be buckled, and bodies must be cleaned (at least sometimes). Although you might understand and feel sympathy for your struggling child, you might still need to ignore the tantrum and push through your agenda.

Be consistent and calm in your approach. If sometimes you give your child what they want when they have tantrums and sometimes you don’t, the problem could get worse.

Cooling Down

When should I disengage when my child is in the middle of having a tantrum?

When your child is having a complete meltdown, there’s usually no way he or she will be responsive to a rational conversation, so sometimes quiet time is the best method. Tell him or her it’s time to be quiet until he or she can calm down and feel better. It is important that the child learns to become quiet in time-out, so that the procedure can be used in public with minimal disruption.

Is it okay to leave them to calm down and how should I go about doing that? If so where, and for how long?

Ignoring a tantrum may not always work, but it’s worth giving it a try in certain situations. A few minutes alone can also give an overwhelmed child a little time to work through his or her feelings. Tell the child, “No____(crying, whining, screaming, kicking). Time-out.” Escort the child to a time-out location with no further explanation and interaction during the entire time-out period. After the child has been quiet for approximately 10-15 seconds, say, “Now you are being quite. Time-out is over.” Remaining calm yourself will help to model good behaviour to your child. By using the time-out as a way to give your child space this will help them to take control of their emotions.

If the tantrum recurs on a daily basis, like when going to school, should we be worried?

Having tantrum on a daily basis when going to school could be a sign of school refusal, which is especially common in kids who are 5 or 6 years old—when they start to go to kindergarten.

A visit to your paediatrician is usually a good first step when your kid doesn't want to go to school. This check-up verifies that your child doesn't have a physical condition causing their symptoms.

Talk to your child and school staff to see if you can figure out what is triggering your child's school avoidance behaviours, such as bullying, academic performance problems, or trouble making friends.

Obtain a referral for a child psychiatrist or a child psychologist, in addition to your paediatrician, especially if you think that you're forcing your child to go to school each day. Consider family therapy if there are any stressors at home, like divorce, separation, discipline problems, death in the family, new sibling, or a recent house moving.

How can I work with my child's teachers and my partner to have a consistent procedure in dealing with tantrums?

It is very important to have a consistent procedure. Discussing your child’s tantrums with their teachers and your partner will help you to identify the triggers of your kid’s tantrums, and then create a consistent procedure in how to deal with them.

If you have troubles in dealing with your child’s tantrums please feel free to contact Jiahui Wellness Centre’s mental health counsellors. We hope the above tips can help you, your partner, and your child, to build a better way of supporting each other through the emotion management wisdom.

Dr. Selina Lin from Jiahui Health

Mental Health Counselor

Selina received MA degree majoring in counseling from Loyola University Chicago. In her work, she uses various counseling models (Internal Family Systems, Emotion Focused Therapy) to help clients integrate their body, mind and spirit.