No matter how much junior’s tantrums frustrate you, here are some things you should never do to get him to stop.
WORDS REBECCA WONG
A fiery toddler’s tantrums may seem almost impossible to tame but this doesn’t mean they don’t have to be properly addressed. “How a parent deals with a child’s tantrums is a crucial part of modelling and teaching emotional regulation (part of emotional intelligence),” notes Angeline Kin, psychotherapist and counsellor at The Center for Psychology. “Through their responses, parents teach children how to recognise, express and manage their feelings.” Given the importance of handling outbursts the right way, we’ve rounded up several no-nos for dealing with a cranky child.
Calming Your Child Down
This may sound like a logical solution but attempting to soothe and placate children out of their anger only invalidates their feelings, and dismisses their right to express anger, explains Kin. “Telling them to stop being angry or that everything will work out fine speaks more about a parent’s avoidance of addressing anger, and their need to “fix” this emotion,” she elaborates. Instead, parents should first validate their child’s anger. Then, co-regulate their emotions by modelling self-control, helping them label and express their feelings through words.
Distracting Your Child
“In this scenario, parents manipulate their child by distracting them from the issue that upset them in the first place,” says Kin. “This invalidates a child’s feelings by implying that what they’re going through isn’t important.” In turn, a failure to build emotional literacy ensues, as difficult feelings are never acknowledged or processed.
Ignoring or Dismissing the Outburst
Though propagated by behaviourists in the past, Kin cautions against this strategy. “Merely ignoring bad behaviour until it disappears sends the message that a child must cope with intense struggles alone, and that mum or dad is unwilling or unavailable to help,” she explains. “What this does is breed disconnect between parent and child, and turn anger into resentment as issues are not really sorted out.”
Giving your child the cold shoulder whenever he acts
out not only conditions him to ignore his own needs but bottle up
negative feelings so as to be accepted.
“A punitive approach at behavioural management is harsh as it does not meet a child’s developmental needs,” says Kin. “Punishment labels tantrums as “bad”, rather than a result of children lacking the capacity to regulate their anger, frustration and energy.” Instead, punishment teaches your child that angry feelings are “bad”, that they are “bad” for being angry, and that expressing anger is shameful and prohibited. “From a young child’s limited worldview, they feel they are “bad” and this leads to unhealthy feelings of shame, as opposed to knowing their behaviour is bad and correcting it out of healthy feelings of guilt,” Kin says. “This affects their self-esteem and fails to teach them about emotional regulation.”
While punishment may do more harm than good, giving in to junior’s demands is just as ineffective. All this does is show him that throwing a tantrum will get him what he wants, opening the door to similar outbursts in future. Be firm and remind him that meltdowns are not a means to an end.
Losing your temper will backfire as it activates your child’s fear/threat response, thus shutting down their “higher thinking” brain, explains Kin. In this intense emotionally-overwhelming state, it becomes impossible to rationalise with them.
Be mindful of what triggers you, and respond
with patience and guidance.
“Control your anger by remembering that tantrums are a temporary phase – the emotional, cognitive and behavioural demands of self-control simply outstrip your little one’s capacity to respond appropriately,” says Kin.
Taking Things Personally
It’s natural to think that junior is out to provoke you out of spite or hatred whenever he yells in your face. When such thoughts arise, remind yourself that your child doesn’t have a vendetta against you. “The key is to realise that your child is struggling with overwhelming unmanageable feelings instead of intentionally being willful or naughty,” notes Kin. “They simply don’t have the brain maturity to handle intense feelings.” Also, several stresses may have already built up by the time a tantrum is triggered, such as previous disappointments and being over-tired or hungry.
What to Do Instead
There may be more than a few ways you shouldn't deal with tantrums, but fortunately, you can take appropriate steps to manage the situation. Kin advocates the practice of emotional coaching, a technique that helps kids react to feelings healthily. Start by remaining calm when tempers flare and recognise your child’s underlying need for support. Then acknowledge his anger – this validation accords him the safe space to express his anger until it subsides, while still maintaining a connection with him.
Once junior calms down, instruct him in expressing
his anger through words, and introduce ways to
involve him in problem-solving.
Kin also advises observing patterns that may trigger your child’s tantrums. “Once parents can identify an underlying common trigger, measures can be adapted in anticipation of potential episodes,” she says. “Tantrums can then be navigated through with more ease and confidence, and possibly even avoided.”
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