So last week we talked a little about tantrums, and I explained that when dealing with tantrums the first thing I do, is determine what kind of tantrum it is. Most tantrums fall into two categories: frustration and temper.
I spoke about self control training for frustration tantrums, but after posting I realised there are a whole bunch of other factors to consider. Simple things like how tired a child is, and their ability to communicate can drastically effect how frustrated they become. We don’t parent in a vacuum. I’m a big believer in routine and consistency, but in context . That’s where so many routine nazis get it wrong, and become misunderstood.
So it’s important to assess all the factors, and take them into consideration, (loved Anna Millie’s post on this), but what do you do when in the throes of a full on temper tantrum?
The truth is, not much.
Think of yourself. When you are in the middle of a rant, can you be easily calmed down? Not usually. It’s similar with kids. They are expressing their displeasure, and a simple, ‘please stop yelling at mummy,’ or a giant whollop across the back side is not going to do a lot.
The difference is, that while we adults can have a rant in a mature (hopefully dignified) way, a tantrum is the exact opposite. It is not simply a rant. It is anger at you, the world, and the very word no. It is defiance in the extreme. My kids often tell me they don’t like me mid tantrum. They scream that I am a bad mummy and that I’m mean. They yell that they like daddy more. It is horrible, and can be quite demoralizing.
I believe the best thing to do in the fire of a tantrum is to isolate the child, and we practice this in our family from the time that our little ones can understand what they are doing. Don’t be fooled: the eight month old in the high chair who is arching their back knows exactly what they are doing. Which means they can begin to understand a little isolation in the cot.
With my tiny ones, I will pick them up, place them in their bed/cot and tell them, ‘we do not carry on like that in our family,’ and then I leave the room. Usually they will protest, (wouldn’t you?) but I will wait outside the door, and listen to their cries. There is a difference between the angry and sad cry of a pre-toddler. When I hear the cry change, I go straight in, pick her up, and ask her to say sorry. If she can’t, I will use her little hand to sign the word sorry (more on signing another day), and tell her, ‘say sorry mummy.’ After a big, soothing cuddle, we will go back out, and (usually) the behaviour will change. Sometimes it won’t. Those particularly stubborn little people can push the envelope, and if required, I will repeat this process. After this I remove the source of the conflict. If it was a meal time issue, I finish the meal. If it was touching something they shouldn’t, I remove the object or them. It’s very important to me that I don’t exasperate my children, by creating an environment where it is hard for them to comply.
When it comes to an older toddler, or child, it’s different. In theory, tantrums should not occur after about the age of five. By that point, most kids should be able to express themselves and accept no gracefully, and in a way that doesn’t require a screaming fit. But life is not theoretical, and they still happen.
With an older child my tantrum concerns are based on what’s in their heart. What is their behaviour showing me about what they believe? A real challenge shows me a child who is not willing to submit to my authority; and I don’t say that in a harsh way. It is in my children’s best interest to learn respect and compliance to authority.
Super Nanny and others suggest time out for a set period; usually a number of minutes equivalent to a child’s age. This doesn’t work for me. For one, I may have a child who is repentant straight away, and doesn’t need to sit for long. Or I have a child who is happy to wait their time and then come out and challenge again.
Rather I send my children to their room with the instructions, ‘you can come out when you are ready to obey mummy with a happy heart.’ This puts the responsibility back on them; they must decide what is the right thing to do. I practice this from about three, but it depends on your child’s maturity and understanding. Some kids you can start earlier, and others later.
Usually it’s easy to see a change of heart. If they willingly, without challenge or complaint do what was asked, and apologise properly, you know that they have owned their own actions, and have changed their heart attitude. If they continue to complain or cry, they have just faked it to come out, and need to resume time out until they are ready to change.
Sometimes with Taylah (who is 8), I’m not sure if she has had a real change of heart, so I will ask her to go back into her room, until I come to speak to her. If this is met with tears and frustration, I know that she is still not ready to comply, and must think things through some more. If she goes happily, I know that she is in fact ready to come out.
For an older child, we don’t call this time out. It’s reflective sit time, and I ask my older girls to consider their actions.
What have they done wrong?
Who have they hurt?
What do they need to do to make it right?
Have you spoken to God about it?
Do you need to say sorry to Him?
Depending on the offense, I will go through these questions with the girls myself, and help them find the answers.
This process is usually used when I notice a behaviour I’m not happy with, like nastiness, lying, refusal to listen, that kind of thing. I don’t use this for more tame offenses like getting distracted by the tv, or forgetting to feed the dog, or not tidying the lounge. And honestly, with Taylah, we rarely have tantrums, or outright disobedience. Reflective sit time is used when it’s matters of her heart we want to see her change.
So in a nutshell, that’s how we deal with temper tantrums. There is so much more I could say, but it would be an essay, so if you have questions feel free to ask.
Also I’ve had a bit if interest in the idea of a heart training series; it’s something that’s very near and dear to me, and I’m excited to do it. If you’re interested, let me know in the comments, and what sort of things you want to chat about. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m learning as I go, and and happy to share.