Some of the basic reasons why a child throws tantrums (becoming adamant, crying loudly, refusing to be logical, known in Kannada as “hatta”) are:
- Seeking attention (particularly from parents, teacher, or adults)
- Feeling tired and restless or uncomfortable
- Physical factors like hunger, sleepiness
It is the child’s way of expressing anger and frustration. Kids don’t have inhibitions or control like adults, and they do not know the right words to explain what they want, hence they resort to tantrums. If the behaviour is dealt incorrectly, the child may learn to use tantrums to manipulate people and to gain attention. In dealing with tantrums, the ultimate goal is to teach the child acceptable ways of expressing anger (or emotions).
Children want a sense of independence and control over the environment — more than they may be capable of handling. This creates the perfect condition for power struggles as a child thinks “I can do it myself” or “I want it, give it to me.” When kids discover that they can’t do it and can’t have everything they want, they resort to a tantrum. If the tantrum succeeds in eventually getting the child what he wants, then it becomes a habit.
When a child is throwing a tantrum:
- Don’t punish, shout at, or hit the child at that time.
- Don’t reward the child or give in to his demands till he calms down.
- Stay calm and ignore the behaviour to the extent possible. Do not get agitated.
- Keep the child safe from physical harm, but otherwise leave him free.
- Isolate the child if possible. Walk away and ignore him.
- Don’t worry that others are seeing and may look down upon you.
- Try not to discipline your child in public. Be firm and consistent. Plan in advance how you will deal when the next tantrum comes.
At Home: When the child throws a tantrum at home, calmly carry or gently push the child to a place where the child can be left safely by himself/herself (within your vicinity) then leave the room, and don’t go back until he/she calms down. When the child is calm, have a talk with him/her about his/her behaviour. If you don’t feel safe leaving the child alone, stay with her, but don’t respond to the tantrum in any way. Don’t even make eye contact.
In Public: If the child throws a tantrum in public, carry or lead him out of the public area if possible, and take him to a place where you can have some privacy, be with the child, and wait calmly without reacting to the tantrum. When the tantrum subsides, talk to the child about his behaviour, and then return to your activities. Remember that you may be embarrassed but be assured that if you ignore the tantrum will not last very long.
Sometimes it won’t be possible for you to escape from the public place easily. Under such circumstances, just grit your teeth and hang on. Ignore the screaming child. Ignore the glares and snide remarks of the people around you. Keep your cool. (Anyway, a screaming child in a check-out line speeds it up, so your child is actually doing everyone a favour.) Once you are able to make your escape, talk to the child about his behaviour firmly but gently.
- Distract your child. Take advantage of your little one’s short attention span by offering a choice or a replacement for the coveted object or beginning a new activity to replace the frustrating or forbidden one. Or simply change the environment. Take your child outside or inside or move to a different room. This will give you temporary relief.
- Know your child’s limits. If you know your child is tired, it’s not the best time to go grocery shopping or try to squeeze in one more errand. Avoid giving him instructions that may lead to his throwing a tantrum.
- Give him personal attention, spend more time with him, whenever he is doing something nice and peaceful. Give him simple activities where he can succeed and feel proud, and you can praise him for it.
- Make sure your child isn’t acting up simply because he or she isn’t getting enough attention from you. To a child, negative attention (a parent’s response to a tantrum) is better than no attention at all. Try to establish a habit of catching your child being good (“time in”), which means rewarding your little one with attention for positive behaviour. Whenever the child does NOT throw tantrums, reward him particularly with non-material things like a hug, praise in front of others, taking him out for a drive or park, playing games with him etc. This will reinforce positive behaviour in him.
Try to give your child some control over little things. This may fulfil the need for independence and ward off tantrums. Offer minor choices such as “Do you want orange juice or apple juice?” or “Do you want to brush your teeth before or after taking a bath?” Teach him to express his wants and needs calmly and to verbalize his emotions, e.g. “Are you feeling very angry?” The aim of the parent should be to channel the emotions and desires of the child to more constructive outlets.