Dealing with children’s tantrums is one of the hardest aspects to deal with as a parent. From low level whinging to full on melt downs, it can all feel just so hard sometimes. The way you handle a tantrum though can make a big difference, even though it may not seem like it at the time. One of the common reasons that we don’t handle them, or think we handle them well , is because of the range of emotions that you feel inside as a parent. These can be a mixture of anger, frustration, disappointment, annoyance to feeling abused. Here is a quick guide to handling tantrums.
1. Reduce technology time
I’m starting with the toughest one first. Many families really struggle with the balance of screen time. How much is too much? A meta study has shown that 90 percent of school aged children’s sleep is affected by screen time (Hale & Guan, 2015). We all know that a child with a lack of sleep is always going to find it hard to cope when something doesn’t go their way, but there are also a myriad of other effects from excessive screen time including reducing social coping skills, brain structure changed that affect emotional regulation, and depends on screen akin to addiction, as well a decrease in physical health. In a review by researchers, too much screen time was also linked to inaccurate diagnosis of ADHD (Lissak, 2018). In a large national study in the US of 40,337 children aged 2- to 17-year-old children in 2016, it was found that after half a day of use, there was a report in lower psychological well-being, including less curiosity, less self-control, higher distractibility less emotional stability, and parents reported they were more difficult to care for (Twenge & Campbell, 2018).
So what is the right amount? The same research found that spending more than one hour a day on screen, including TV, tablets, and phones, that increasing time was linked to lower psychological wellbeing. (Twenge and Campbell, 2018) . The type of behaviours after an hour a day were not staying calm, not finishing things and arguing with care givers. The good news is there was no difference between non users and those children who used devices for under an hour. So, it’s not that you have to ban screen time, you just need to set effective limits.
2. Look for the causes of the tantrums
Tantrums happens for various reasons and sometimes it’s about working out the underlying causes of the tantrums that helps you then avoid them. This again relates to the first point, as reducing screen time is a big factor for many families. Another common factor however is when children are told ‘no’. One of the biggest tantrum triggers that parents report to me are when their child wants to do something or have something, and they are told ‘no’. As a parent it can feel very hard to stick to your guns. You need to decide is this something working battling over? My advice is to always pick a few things that really make a difference, or you have a good reason to stick to, and to other things, say ‘yes’. For example, if you are reducing screen time in your house then make sure you don’t give in when they are whinging for more time. At the same time children need to feel a sense of control over their world so for other choices, you should let them have a choice, so that you are not fighting over trivial or unimportant things like what to wear or forcing them to always eat a particalry food they don’t’ like especially if they eat well generally. Some parents feel that they need to be on top of every decision, or tantrums however sometimes by relaxing about certain things, it gives you more energy to deal with the really important things that you want to put a stop to, such as swearing, excessive screen time or any other poor behaviour or habit.
3. Establish a routine.
One of the key reasons that some children are constantly unhappy, is lack of routine. Children really thrive on knowing what to expect as it helps them feel secure. Sometimes tantrums or difficult behaviour increases when there isn’t enough consistently. This can be difficult for parents who live in different households, however the more you can give a child consistency, the better off they will be.
4. Be a role model
Children are always looking to their parents on how to behave. The more you are able to handle your own anger and frustration, they better they will be able to as well. Of course, when you are facing an irrational unreasonable child, who won’t just get in the car when it’s time to go or seem to have a meltdown for no reason, this can be hard. It can also be hard when you been dealing with on a daily basis and you feel worn down. One of the key things to do is to make sure you are not in reactionary mode; you need to take a deep breath and mentally step back so you are not caught up in the child’s emotional storm. Try to switch your mind to that or curiosity and compassion for your little one and ask yourself “What is it like for them in this moment?”, “They must be really struggling in this moment”. While that can be hard it’s important that you don’t take their behaviour personally, they are a little person struggling to cope with a big feeling and they need your help to do that. If you react in anger, you are not available to help, and they are struggling on their own. While it can be hard to maintain an open heart, it is exactly what they need from you in that moment. While it’s easy to be loving and compassionate when they are smiling, happy and laughing, they also need you in that moment when they are angry, sad, and furious. Trying to conceptualise it in that way, can help you engage the less emotional part of your mind, stay present and support your child.
No matter what is happening always try to remember, these time will pass, and try to focus on the good times.
If you want to read any of the research papers, take a look at these references