A Common Tantrum?
Ok so as parents, most of us have been there; We’re in the supermarket, casually strolling down the aisles with our beautiful children.. Wait, if the kids are with us, who am I kidding, we are trying to get in and out of there as quick as possible, right?
You strategically avoid the Confectionery aisle because you know that it’s trouble, but then there’s the strategic marketing placement of confectionery and snacks at the END of various aisles. Your child spots something they want, they ask if they can have it. You say ‘No’. Your child starts with the whiney, noisier pleading to ‘Pleeeeease’ have it. You say ‘No’ again, explaining you already have snacks at home. The whining and pleading turns into a full blown tantrum. I’m talking screaming, whaling, yelling, lying on the floor, banging fists on the ground, tears, kicking, the LOT. Fellow customers stare, or pretend not to hear or see it (those are the ones I prefer), you get some sympathetic looks from other mums, others just very judgey. Either way, you want to get the HELL OUT OF THERE as soon as possible, to not make even more of a scene, even if it means abandoning the shopping trolley all together.
Any mums out there who can relate?
As pleasant ; ) as the above all sounds, I’m going to unpack why I think we can change our view on tantrums and actually learn to EMBRACE them.
Here are 3 reasons why I believe we can love tantrums;
- Asserting Authority
A tantrum is a child’s way of communicating something. Sometimes it’s a protest, sometimes it’s that they are tired, hungry, uncomfortable, upset, or all of the above. Sometimes they are just testing boundaries. It can be that they are expressing their displeasure at an adult’s authority, rather than manipulating or dictating things to go their own way. It can be very easy to fall into the trap of saying ‘Yes’ or agreeing to something you would not normally allow, to avoid a tantrum. This however can act as a very strong lesson to a child; if I chuck a tantrum, I can usually get something I want. That’s not the message you want to be sending. Remember, you are the responsible adult, trying to teach your child important lessons, not the other way around. A good alternative might be to still stick with your firm decision, while trying to explain to the child why you made that decision, in an age appropriate way, and then point out why they should also see your decision as a positive one. For example; ‘No Johnny, you can’t have those lollies from the shop, we have lots of yummy snacks at home to make our bodies big, strong and healthy. How about you come with me to the fruit and vege section and you can pick what fruits we buy today?’
Changing the focus and sending a strong message about healthy eating and snacking, while allowing them to believe they hold some power over a decision about what fruits to buy, helps them to feel like they still have some control, while you are giving them healthy, ‘choices’ of what fruits they can choose. This concept can be applied to many situations; again, ‘Sarah, you need to have a bath and eat some dinner tonight, how about you tell me what you would like to do first? Bath or dinner?’ That way you are sending the message; you will be having a bath AND having dinner, but YOU get to pick the order you do it in, hence they feel like they have SOME control.
NSW Family and Communtiy Services (FACS) provide a useful fact sheet on dealing with Tantrums here.
2. Self Regulation
“Self-regulation is learning about your own feelings and emotions, understanding how and why they happen, recognising them (and those of others), and developing effective ways of managing them.” BeYou.edu.au
Tantrums are a way of children learning how to self regulate their emotions. Particular emotions can be overwhelming for children to manage, and learning how to calm down after a tantrum, or talking with an adult while reflecting on a tantrum or the reasons for it (age dependent) can help to teach them how to manage those emotions next time.
The absence of tantrums could mean that children are internalising or not forming those important strategies to learn to actually DEAL with those strong emotions such as frustration, anger, tiredness, jealousy or sadness.
BeYou.edu.au share some valuable info on self regulation in early childhood here.
3. Brain Development
“Children’s brains develop as they grow. The section of the brain that is ‘firing’ at the age children commonly have a lot of big feelings (tantrums) is the limbic system (the emotional centre of the brain). Young children see their world and react to many everyday situations through this emotional lens. Until their cortex (the reasoning and thinking part of the brain) is developed, a young child’s only way of telling you about what is bothering them is through expressing their feelings – such as frustration about being misunderstood or not being able to make their needs clear, or being upset.” – Betterhealth.vic.gov.au
Tantrums are a normal part of brain development. Children are learning how to communicate, to feel, to express themselves and respond to various situations, stimuli or people. It’s a great opportunity for parents to; validate their feelings, remain calm and model appropriate language or ways to respond, as well as show understanding and empathy for what they’re experiencing.
Raisingchildren.net.au have some great tips for managing tantrums which you can read here.
Summary of Tantrums
Tantrums are not something we usually love or even appreciate as something that is necessary as part of normal child development, but if we change the way we view them and use them as a moment for learning, for growth, for the teachable moment it can be, it can also save our own sanity and we can start to actually form strategies that would be useful to put into place next time this occurs. And they occur at ALL ages!! Who has ever seen a grown adult have a tantrum? I know I have! Although the strategies in this case might be slightly different.. haha.. who am I kidding now, that’s a whole different article!!
I hope this can help some parents out there think differently when it comes to their children’s tantrums. Please reach out and let me know what you think!