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Tempering Tantrums

One of the most unsettling experiences in raising children is a temper tantrum--an explosion of frustration, anger, or rage from a child.

Learning how to deal with, prevent, and survive toddler outbursts is something nearly every parent comes up against at one time or another. Tantruming can cause parents to feel frustrated, angry, powerless, out of control and certainly quite embarrassed if they occur out in public, or during family gatherings.

Before actually handling a tantrum, parents need to know that there are various types of tantrums. Learning to differentiate between them is crucial in the prevention of such behavior.

There are three types of tantrums, and parents need to treat each type differently.

1. Fatigue, Hunger, Illness, or Hypersensitivity: Some children get out of sorts and lose emotional control when they are tired, hungry or sick. Some children react quite strongly and negatively to scratchy clothing, lables, too tight shoes, etc. And some children become emotionally upset over transitions from one astivety to the next. For example: Saying "Put down your toys. It's dinnertime. Come now," can cause a tantrum to some kids.

Some children are simply more sensitive, persistent or determined and lack the emotional control necessary to keep themselves in check.

"These kids," write Martha and William Sears, MD in The Discipline Book, "are more prone to blow their lid, and they are less able to put the lid back on once it has been blown."

Tantrum-prone kids have trouble controlling their emotions, which results in an inability to control their behavior. They are literally overwhelmed and out of control and cannot help themselves at this moment.

2. Testing or Manipulation: When parents speak of tantrums this is the sort they are usually referring to. This is angry defiance on the child's part for not getting what he wants now. Having a loudangry emotional explosion ofer non-negotiable limits that the parent has set is what's usually known as a temper tantrum. The child may be trying to gain power in the situation. The parent can identify this type of tantrum because he or she will feel manipulated.

What to do

  • The very first and most important thing for parents to begin with is to know your child. Who is she? What makes her tick? What sets her off? Does she fall apart if she misses lunch or her nap or both? Does the seam on the inside of her socks drive her crazy? Does she operate on the"Just Do It" philosophy of life regardless of her personal competence? Does she cream bloody murder is she's interrupted in an activety she's concentrating on? Does she have any food sensitivities? Does she absolutely refuse to listen to the word no?
  • If it is a falling apart, loss-of-control tempermental type tantrum, then as quickly as possible fix the problem. Feed her. Get her to bed. Take the shirt with THAT TAG off now. If he is sensitive to change, give him plenty of advance warning: "Ryan, we are having dinner in 10 minutes. Please begin to find a stopping place in your game."
  • The child with frustration type of tantrum needs understanding, holding and comforting. This child needs another human being there who cares and wants to comfort him. Holding this child (if he'll let you) can work wonders. He can relax in the security of your arms and soothing words: "It's really hard to tie shoes, isn't it? You really wanted to tie those darn laces, didn't you? I know, I saw how frustrated you were," in a calm, understanding tone of voice will help her relax and regain control.
  • And finally, the third type of tantrum --the testing manipulative temper tantrum. The best thing to do in this situation is to ignore it completely. Give it no attention whatsoever.

In The Difficult Child, Stanely Turecki, MD writes: "Excessive attention, even if it is negative, is such a powerful reward to the child that is actually reiforces the undesirable behavior."

Leave the room if necessary. Even a young child could feel, "What's the point?" if her audience has left the room. Lock yourself in your room -- not the child in his. You could say, as you're leaving the room, "When you're calm, I'm ready to listen." Be ready and open to accepting him when he's regained self-control. Never hold it against him. Absolutely do not try reasoning, lecturing, discussing, debating, arguing, forcing, shaming, overpowering, or making fun of him. Don't deal with it in public, retreat to a bathroom if possible, or leave if necessary. With this type of tantrum, keep in mind that ignoring it is the best policy.

And most of all, keep in mind that children must know--no matter what--that they are loved, and will be loved forever. Our role in parenting, as guides and nurturers of our children, must never be forgotten, even in the midst of tempering a temper tantrum.

Read the next parenting article on challenging child >>
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