Throw a Fit
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Tantrums – the dreaded behavior all children demonstrate at one point or another.
While the phrase “terrible twos” has been coined and adopted by the parenting community, tantrums can (and do) occur at any age.
TODDLER TO ELEMENTARY YEARS
Temper tantrums most commonly occur between ages one and four and vary in severity and frequency based on the child’s temperament, but continue to occur here and there throughout grade school. Each and every day, children are working to master their world. They’ve developed the ability to often know what they want, but don’t necessarily have the know-how to get it, resulting in a great deal of frustration. When this occurs, children turn to one of the only tools they have for expressing their frustration – a tantrum.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are several ways to handle tantrums in young children:
- Stay calm.
- Distract your child.
- Give them a time-out, followed by a discussion of why they were put on time-out and how to handle the situation differently in the future. (The general rule of thumb is one minute of time-out for every year of the child’s age. For example, a three-year-old would receive a three-minute time-out.)
- Ignore minor displays of anger. Violence, however, should never be ignored.
According to Folsom-based Marriage and Family Therapist Alicia Cordeiro, being calm and consistent are two essential behaviors parents should exhibit when dealing with tantrums. By showing no emotion and staying calm, you avoid inadvertently feeding into the tantrum. In addition, she says the same consequence should be given for the same behavior every time. Don’t let the child off the hook by giving in or not giving the time-out when you said you were going to. Lastly, Cordeiro advises you talk it out. After time-out is over and the child has calmed down, you may hug him/her and tell them you love them. If age appropriate, ask if they understand why they got a time-out (keep it short and sweet). If they say, “I don’t know,” tell them why, encouraging them to use their words next time instead of screaming and yelling.
TWEENS AND TEENS
Kicking and screaming may not occur in the teen realm of tantrums, but they can be just as loud and disruptive. “You’ve ruined my life!” followed by a slamming door is often a teen’s version of a tantrum.
According to Cordeiro, “Pre-teens and teens tend to have more tantrums than elementary-aged children because in some ways their struggle for independence is very similar to that of the two year old. They want more freedom to do things on their own while parents are often saying, ‘No, you’re not ready yet.’” Frustration can stem from this struggle, leading to meltdowns. Cordeiro admits parenting a teen can be more complicated than a toddler, but the same principles should be in place:
- Remain calm and talk it out.
- If you can’t stay calm, give yourself a time-out (time to calm down).
- Be consistent.
- Allow them safe opportunities to show you they can be independent responsibly, which is part of the growing up process.
- Nurture them. Teens still need a lot of nurturing – just in a different way. Find what works for your child and do it often.
Cordeiro stresses toddler tantrums and teen meltdowns are developmentally normal. The best advice she offers in both cases is to stay calm and be consistent; advice we can surely follow in other aspects of our lives as well.