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“What do I do about tantrums?” is a question parents often ask at my workshops
Yes – tantrums are dreadful. No parent wants to live through one.
Tantrums arise out of a multitude of reasons and how to prevent them is what I teach in my “Workshop on Discipline”
But try as you might – from time to time – you do come face to face with a tantrum.
And when life gives you lemons – I firmly believe - you should make lemonade
And so - if tantrums are inevitable – why not understand them and use them as an opportunity to teach a vital life skill called - THINKING
What is tantrum?
A tantrum is basically a socially unacceptable way of expressing frustration, anxiety and worry.
“Frustrated? Anxious? Worried? Why should children feel like that?” Parents ask incredulously
As much as we want to believe that we give our children the perfect lives where they have no reason to feel frustrated – if you look at the world from the point of view of the child – you would find that there are more than enough reasons for children to feel frustrated anxious and worried.
Just like adults – children are constantly faced with problems. As they go about their daily lives, they encounter unfulfilled needs and/or desires and get into conflicts with those around them.
When children are unable to find solutions to their problems, they feel angry, frustrated, anxious and worried. And when they are able to solve their problems - they feel relieved, happy and proud
If you put yourself in your child’s shoes you would realize that your own behaviour in your day to day life is closely linked with your ability to solve the problems that you face in day to day life.
Imagine yourself faced with the problem of a neighbour who refuses to lower the volume of the music he is playing at bedtime.
Your problem with your neighbour is actually no different from a 4 year old crying for an unobtainable toy. The emotions he experiences are in all probability are exactly the same ones that you have.
If you are unable to get your neighbour to reduce the volume to what you think is an acceptable level you are likely to feel inadequate and helpless. And if this goes on for several days or if there are several other such issues that simultaneously remain unresolved – you would end up feeling frustrated and behave in a socially unacceptable manner.
When a four year old behaves similarly it would be called a tantrum or a meltdown.
What causes the frustration that leads to a tantrum?
The automatic human reaction to a problem that cannot be solved to your satisfaction is - FRUSTRATION.
Frustration causes you to complain and when complaining does not help – it leads to your giving vent to your frustrations in unacceptable behaviour. The sequence in a child is - whining – followed by a full blown tantrum.
If we train ourselves to think up a solutions to real life problems – in the heat of the moment – it can keep us from feeling helpless and inadequate and compelled to throw a tantrum.
This holds true for adults – as much as it does for children and can go a long way in reducing lifelong stress
How to use a tantrum to teach ‘THINKING’
STEP 1 – Comfort – Give your child a big hug
Are you thinking…….. “Think??????!!!! When my child is throwing a tantrum – forget the child – even I can’t think”
Well I can’t disagree with you. In the midst of a tantrum – it is difficult to think. Both parent and child need to calm down. And the easiest way to have that happen is to give your child a long, loving hug. Believe me - it works!
STEP 2 – Enquire calmly
“What happened?” or “What did you do? Sounds threatening to child who is already guilty of doing something he/she knows is unacceptable and can shut down the child’s thinking completely.
A “Why did you do it?” or “Why are you crying?” in a tone that allows an explanation is much better.
Every child usually has a good reason for what he/ she does. And discovering that reason is the key to helping the child to think up a solution. It also gives the child a chance to think about why he/she is doing something. When children don’t have reasons that are good enough – they most often feel so sheepish that they automatically calm down.
STEP 3 - Listen
Very often – we ask questions but make no effort to listen to the answer.
When you ask a question be aware that your child’s view of the problem may differ from your view – but just because it is different it is not less important. If you don’t find out what your child thinks the problem is – you will never be able to help him think up a solution.
If your child thinks that the problem is that he has shared his toy long enough and now simply wants it back, but you think the problem is that he grabs at toys that other children are playing with for no reason – you will both be working towards a different goal and are unlikely to reach a solution.
STEP 4 – Don’t offer solutions
It is tempting to sort out the problem by offering a readymade solution or an instruction – but resist the temptation to do that.
The goal is to help the child think up a solution. And it is also important to allow a problem that a 3 year old has – to have a solution that a 3 year old can think up. These solutions are much simpler, more loving and more effective - than we, with our decades old, complicated brains can dream up
STEP 5 – Provide a model of problem solving.
When you are both clear on what the problem is that you have set out to solve.
Say – “Hmmmm….. Let’s see what we can do here.” Then allow your child to come up with solutions and mull over the consequences of each offered solutions.
With encouragement - children usually come up with just the right solution to their problems in the first or second tries
STEP 6 - Be a good role model
In your day to day life as your child watches you encounter problems – be a model for problem solving by calmly thinking out solutions aloud.
“This traffic jam is taking so long to clear up – let’s see how many songs we can sing before it clears up” – is the way to set a good example of how to deal with a problem where you can’t have what you want.
Not every desire can be fulfilled. Conflicts cannot always be resolved the way you wish. And yet –if you can think and get past the frustration that this causes – you can still be happy.
That is the most important lesson we need to teach and in many cases – also learn.