Fear not those fits Tips to tame toddler temper tantrums
Temper tantrums can’t always be avoided, but with the right techniques you can get a grip and equip your child for the future, says Sandra Coetzee
SOME KIDS GRAB things and throw them across the room, others fall on the floor and literally kick up a fuss, and some scream and shout so loudly that the neighbours come calling to check if everything is okay.
We all know that fits of rage are a normal part of early childhood development, but it doesn’t make it easier to live with. And you keep on wondering if your child is going to turn into a monster if you don’t manage this phase correctly.
Temper tantrums are part and parcel of your child’s emotional life, and they have to master them in order to be physically, intellectually and psychologically balanced and become well-adjusted adults, says Liizl Miller, an educational psychologist from Pretoria. She shares her extensive experience of anger attacks and how they can be handled.
HE’S TRYING TO DESCRIBE HIS FEELINGS
A child’s language use develops from about 18 months, and at the same time he also starts realising that he’s able to function independently from his parents.
He’s discovering himself now, and you’ll begin to hear words such as “mine”, “self”, “no”, “I want” and “I don’t want” passing his lips more often. He uses these phrases to express his newfound independence, and we often hear it in situations such as when: ✓ He has to share his toys with someone else. ✓ He doesn’t want Mom or Dad to help him eat or get dressed. ✓ He has spotted a toy or sweetie in the shops and wants it immediately. ✓ He doesn’t want to bath or stay seated in a shopping trolley, car seat or pram.
The more aware he becomes of his own identity and personality, the more he wants to act independently, but he’s not yet old enough to realise that he’s
not able to do everything himself. There are in fact a great number of things that prevent him from functioning completely independently: his age, limited vocabulary, the fact that he can’t reason yet, physical inability and, of course, his parents, who want to protect him.
You can imagine the frustration when you want to do something with all your might but you can’t or are not allowed to. Your child feels like he has no control over himself or his environment – and the result is a typical fit of rage in all its ear-splittingly loud glory.
Because he doesn’t have the necessary skills, he’s forced to resort to instinctual behaviour such as screaming, crying, kicking, hitting, literally throwing his little body on the ground and sometimes injuring himself and those around him. Or he throws things around, hits his head or even holds his breath.
OTHER CAUSES OF TANTRUMS
Impulse control is still underdeveloped in the young brain. It means that your child doesn’t have physical control over some of his behaviour. So you can’t expect your three-year-old to act like you or even her seven-year-old sibling. Just like you can’t expect a baby to control their bodily functions, you can’t expect a two-year-old to understand why a certain treat is unhealthy or why a toy is unnecessary or unaffordable. ✓ A small person’s body experiences physical symptoms, such as hunger, fatigue and feeling out of sorts, as discomfort or pain, so just like adults they react by being angry or ill-tempered. ✓ Children mimic behaviour and identify with Mom and Dad’s actions. If you yell when you lose control over a situation or swear if you can’t get something right, your child will think this is the way one acts in these situations. ✓ Negative attention is better than none at all. Sometimes a child feels emotionally neglected, and with a temper tantrum he garners attention.
HOW SHOULD YOU REACT?
Temper tantrums aren’t a bad thing. But they can become problematic if you fail to help your sprog handle them in a healthy way. No two children have identical physical or emotional development patterns, and the same goes for their emotions. Frustration, loss of control and the inability to act independently is experienced at varying levels of intensity by different children because temperaments and personalities differ. Your one child might glide effortlessly through the terrible twos while the other one’s fits drive you up the wall.
All children will, however, experience emotions such as anger, irritation and frustration for the rest of their lives, and they’ll apply the coping mechanisms they learn now as they grow up and all the way into adulthood.
There’s no winning strategy – what works for one child might not work for another. We tend to do one of two things: acting aggressively or conceding.
IF YOU YELL WHEN YOU LOSE CONTROL OVER A SITUATION, YOUR CHILD WILL THINK IT’S THE RIGHT WAY TO ACT