Stay Strong When Dealing With Tantrums

temper tantrum_boyI would suspect that any person who has ever been responsible for caring for a child has at one time or another encountered the dreaded tantrum. Tantrums run the gamut. They can crop up when a child is overtired or overstimulated causing them to act out. Perhaps it’s the tad bossy child who wants to control a situation. Sometimes it’s a child determined to do something or possess something. Each scenario is different as is each child’s way of orchestrating their drama fest.

As a parent or caregiver we all come to know our kid’s way of being. We recognize the cues leading up to drama and we eventually learn some tactics to combat an out of control situation. Inevitably there will come the time or two or three or more when your child gives in to the urge to be in total control. At that moment they have no self control. The only force working is the desire to have or to do what they have their sights set on. Don’t think logic or reason will work when in the throws of this type of drama. It’s a whole new ballgame and you have to scope out your opponent and come up with a fresh game plan on the spot. It’s a time to realize that quitters never win.  tantrum_girl

The point of this post is not to give pointers on how you deal with your child. I’m more interested in encouraging you to hold your ground and don’t give in. There is a true reward for working through a tantrum. I know in the middle of the drama it’s not evident that something good can come out of this frenzy. It seems more and more I find that parents are so willing to give up their position as a parent in order to placate their out of control child. Sure, it may make the bad and most likely embarrassing scene go away. (Of course we all know that children have an innate talent for initiating drama-o-rama in public.) For a moment consider what you’re giving away and what you’re teaching that child by letting them win.

The moment you capitulate to a child that is hell bent on getting their way you are teaching them that it’s just a matter of time and they will get their way. Kids pick up on cues. How many times does it take after you’ve given in to a demand before they realize that drama is a way to win? Remember, kids learn from their friends and siblings too. They may not be actively involved in a tantrum but learn how you will handle one when you let their brother or sister get their way.

And what lesson have you failed to teach your child if you don’t follow through? Are they acknowledging that you are the parent and in charge? Are they learning self control? Are they learning that wanting is very different from needing? Are lessons in sharing being sabotaged? Are you teaching your child to deal with their emotions? Are these children learning to deal with different social situations? As your child ages how will this affect your ability to discipline them? That’s just some of the things I’m considering right now…

I think one of the hardest things to come to terms with when dealing with tantrums is the possibility that there is no easy solution. I have dealt with drama-o-rama that lasted for hours. Yes. Hours. I hate to make the analogy of winning or losing or being in a battle, but I’m sorry, that is exactly what it feels like sometimes.

Let me give you some examples:

— I know of a young girl who at an early age would demand this or that from her parents. She would get progressively more demanding until she was out of control. If she didn’t get what she wanted from one parent she easily changed gears and started working over the other parent. Her parents would eventually let her have her way simply too make the drama go away. Now in her teens she continues to demand things and the ability to do as she wishes when she wishes, where she wishes, and with whomever she wishes with no regard for her parents concerns for her safety and well-being. She does not acknowledge her parents position as a parent or their authority over her. She is unfortunately freewheeling her way through school and life and at this time I don’t see where her future is headed as there is no structure in her life.

— As a toddler a young girl I know decided that she did not want to go to her room for a nap. She was overtired from the day’s activities and that was so very clear to see on her little face. Yet, she was bound and determined to continue to be outside even though at this point her tiredness had made her unable to play nicely with her friends. She was escorted to her bedroom and given the opportunity to either take a nap or have some down time with a book or two. (It was obvious that if she just had some quiet time she would eventually fall asleep.) She kicked and screamed all the way up the stairs. She refused to stay in her bed. She threw her books across the room and started screaming. Screaming at the top of her lungs. The bedroom door was closed as she was being told she needed some quiet time. Closing the door just infuriated her. The screaming continued and the noise of things being tossed around in her room could be heard downstairs. Next came the banging on the door accompanied by her screaming. She was a total mess at this point.

Her mother’s initial response was to want to go up there and let her out of her room. These tantrums had become a recurring theme when dealing with her daughter. Usually the intensity of the tantrum resulted in letting her daughter have her way in order to end the drama. Her daughter knew this. This time would be different. He mom went upstairs and warned her daughter that if she broke anything in the room it would not be replaced. Choices/consequences. She told her daughter on more time that it was time for her to take a nap and until she had some quiet time she was to stay in her room. Her mother again left the room closing the door behind her. For a bit it was quiet and then the screaming started in again. This time it was different. There was a tone of concession and it seemed like her determination to control the situation and her mother had dwindled a bit. This is not to say quiet time followed precipitously. No, it took a good 2 1/2 hours of patiently waiting for her daughter to realize that she was not in control of the situation before there was quiet once again in the house. It was a turning point for mother and child.

— I know of twin boys who were masters of drama whenever they wanted things to go their way. They actually tag-teamed family members. Can you imagine the mega tantrum that can be orchestrated by two children at the same time? It was monumental drama-o-rama. From the start caring for twins was always difficult in this household. Both parents were working full time and so that left child care to the grandparents for most of the day. At that stage of their lives they were not equipped to handle the temperaments of two manipulating little boys. Most of the time they gave in to their grandsons in the hopes that by informing their parents of the day’s antics they would be reprimanded and warned to follow their grandparent’s instructions.

Without going into the exasperating details of their many exploits it became apparent that neither boy gave any credence to the idea that their grandparents had any authority over them. This developed into a disrespect for most authority figures they encountered. Once they reached school age and had to interact with other children and adults during the day it was quite apparent that they had self control issues and were often disrespectful to classmates and teachers. Phone calls from school regarding their behavior were becoming the norm. Summers were filled with attempts to fill their days with activities in various camps only to have them expelled because of their bad behavior. If we project into the future, what kind of life is in store for them unless someone some day takes the time to break them of their habit of trying to control others via their behavior?

Parenting is not easy. There is no golden book of parenting to refer to. Every family is dealing with their own set of circumstances and must deal with life’s bumps in the road utilizing their resources and range of experience. My wish for parents and caregivers is that you take the time to consider the long term effects of how you deal with tantrums. Never concede your position as parent. Work hard and for however long it takes to help your child understand how to deal with wants and control issues. Life with your child gets easier once you’ve established that very special level of trust and respect between parent and child. In the end you are both winners.

If you’d like to read more about dealing with tantrums, I’ve pulled some articles for you. Here are the links:

By Gret Boyd

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