As mentioned in last week’s column, temper tantrums may be due to varying causes and each occurrence needs to be responded to on a case-by-case basis. Some tantrums are reflective of a battle of wills between parent and child and must be handled appropriately. However, tantrums that occur due to a child’s inability to express himself verbally fall into another category. In such a situation, one first needs to help the child calm down.
A parent needs to speak to the
child again, sometime later, when the child is in a more tranquil frame of mind, neither overly happy nor sad. A person can more easily absorb information when emotionally “neutral.” People who are in a happy state of mind do not wish to be reminded of moments when they exhibited limited self-control. When they are plagued by negativity, they don’t need to add more ammunition to their self-deprecating thoughts.
Parents can speak of their desire to help their child develop coping mechanisms to deal with difficult situations, disappointments and problems. They can discuss alternative responses to anger-provoking situations and ways to internalize dissatisfaction for more constructive results. Positive types of“self-talk” can be suggested and written down. Learning how to mentally reconstruct situations in a more positive light will greatly decrease fits of anger.
Methods for appropriate assertiveness can be discussed. Parents and child can agree upon a “password” the adult can utter to stop the child when he begins to overreact in anger.
A positive statement can also be used in such a situation. The parent can say something like “I know that you are a tzaddik,” and give examples of how the youngster showed major self-control and kindness in other situations. A child can be reminded of when they could have responded in anger — e.g., a sibling took their new toy without permission — and yet they showed total composure. “A child can remember how Hashem sees someone who controls their anger, as being more mighty than a warrior who conquers a city” (Avos 4:1 citing Mishlei 16:32). A chart-based reward system can be instituted, focusing on the positive aspect of this behavior change.
At times, a child can feel very justified in her extreme anger and find it difficult to“let go.”
Temper tantrums occasionally reflect a more global problem that is occurring in the home among family members. Be it a medical or emotional crisis, some children can almost “absorb” the tension of the house, internalizing it as an overwhelming feeling of anxiety. They are only able to vent these feelings in fits of rage. Such anger expresses the disquiet of the home, and the problem needs to be worked on within the family system.
In some cases, uncontrollable tantrums reflect a more severe problem within an individual child. Professional help, utilizing a more in-depth approach, may be necessary.
Working with anger is a lifetime task, difficult for both children and adults. Yet helping a child effectively cope with negative emotions is a tremendous gift that all parents can help give their children.