Temper Tantrums Part I

Q: My seven-year-old daughter has been very difficult to deal with in the past few months. She is generally well mannered, but recently she has been throwing temper tantrums.

I feel that she often does this as a way to manipulate us to give her what she wants, and I am quite strong in not giving in to this behavior. My husband, on the other hand, feels that “maybe she had a hard day at school” or “her brother has been teasing her.” He is not consistent and gives in to her requests due to too much “compassion” on his part.

My husband and I have been trying to discover why she acts this way. But even if we find the immediate causes, it won’t prevent future tantrums. Do you have any ideas on how to deal with — or, better yet, prevent — such behavior?

 

A: A child’s unbridled anger causes parents to feel helpless, and a parent may wonder, “Who is really in control in this house?”

No human being feels comfortable with uncontrollable negative emotions. A temper tantrum is frightening to the child throwing it, as she finds herself losing control. The anxiety it generates can be felt for a prolonged period of time, long after the outburst itself.

There are a variety of reasons why your daughter may be choosing this behavior to vent her feelings.

A most common and simple cause of mild temper tantrums is being overly pampered by parents. Such children are often seen in action in toy and candy stores. They well understand that their parent’s embarrassment will likely cause him or her to give in to anything rather than hear his/her child screaming in public.

Parents need to scrutinize their actions and try to determine which parental behaviors might have led to such an outburst. If a parent is so manipulated by a child as to allow such behavior to be exhibited in public, s/he needs to change his or her responses to the child. If a child really believes that no means no (and not maybe), perhaps the toy store meltdown will not occur. If a child really believes that screaming in public will only lead to negative consequences later on, perhaps s/he will try other methods to gain what s/he desires.

Honest introspection on the part of a parent will lead to the question: “Am I being consistent in my words to my children?” If one is consistent, tantrums are less likely to occur, as A)The child knows that the tantrum will not change the parent’s mind, and B)The child knows that there will be negative consequences due to his/her screaming.

A more serious type of temper tantrum is exhibited by the very frustrated child. This is the one who gets into a fight with siblings and has a temper tantrum because s/he is unable to express him- or herself verbally. The inability to communicate and deal with anger causes the child to become more and more frustrated until his/her emotions can only be expressed through tears and general uncontrollability. This child cannot usually be reached by a rational, problem-solving adult response, as the child’s response itself is no longer logical. A parent needs to have an “illogical” response, in a sense. As the child cannot find the words to express his/her outrage, a parent can try to articulate what s/he thinks the child might be feeling. An example of this might be: “Chani started up with you. She called you a name. That’s really not fair.”

Although Chani might not appreciate your taking her sister’s side, this is often necessary to allow Chani’s frustrated and screaming sibling to form her thoughts and give her a way to leave the realm of hysteria. Once the screaming child is calmer, a more balanced appraisal of the situation can be made.