Perhaps no circumstances leave parents feeling as powerless and shaken as a temper tantrum. And few experiences are as memorable. The same mother who cannot tell you what she ate for lunch the day before can recall in vivid detail the time, the place, the weather, and a dozen other details of the traumatic scene, containing the horrified stares of onlookers. A small child in the fury of an all out fit may overwhelm her parents.
An occasional tantrum in the first few years is a normal expression of rage. Even so, our goal is to help children find better ways of expressing anger than to lash out physically. Should a child be “punished” for having a tantrum”? Most children feel certain remorse from within.
The most important thing is not to cave in to the child’s demands just to cut back the scene, or you can count on another one in the future. Experts agree that parents should stand firm, show they understand how powerful and frightening these feelings are to the child, and be willing to talk about what happened when calm returns.
Time Out Procedure
Interestingly, the “time-out” procedure is not recommended for dealing with tantrums. An enraged child feels helpless and leaving that child alone in his room and closing the door only increases his fear because he knows he cannot control himself. As a parent, then, you want to stand by the child (that is, prevent him from hurting himself or anyone else) instead of shutting him out or giving him a reason to feel abandoned.
Things Done During Temper Tantrum
During a temper tantrum, children may hit, kick, and bite for many of the same reasons that they throw tantrums. But babies begin doing these things quite by accident. They are using muscles for the first time, discovering what their bodies are capable of doing.
An eighteen-month-old may kick you one day because he wants a cookie and you won’t give him one. Once again, he probably does so because he has no verbal recourse for his anger. We need to let the young child know, in clear, simple language, that this behavior is unacceptable to us: “That hurts me, and hurting people is not allowed.”
Parents need to use judgment in deciding whether these outbursts are too frequent. A child who isn’t taught to control his temper will have trouble making friends later. The “time-out” procedure can be effective with preschool-age children. If your son is agitated and close to losing control, give him a few minutes alone, or in a quiet place, to cool off before he boils over.
Some children punch or bite when they are aggravated by older brothers or sisters. Or they resort to anger when they feel left out of the big kids’ games. If this is the case in your home, your child may need some special grown-up attention, and you may need to make older children mindful of the younger one’s feelings. Our reactions to physical anger are bound to be better if we take into account the frequency and the situation of a child’s anger.