You are taught to expect the terrible two's and a toddler tantrum, but what happens when these tantrums escalate and your child does not seem to be growing out of them?
We call these extreme or extended tantrums and they can be very hard for a parent to manage, especially if the tantrums involve hurting another child or damaging things around them. What is actually happening here?
Children start to develop patterns of behaviour at a very young age and these are often centred around their relationships with significant 'big people'. For example, we may teach our young children to 'be strong' and 'tough' and they may start to 'play' tough and strong and not realise that this is becoming a pattern of behaviour. Sometimes, when they play 'strong' but they don't feel like they are being taken seriously or being seen the way they want to be (strong) they may then resort to a push or a hit to really show how strong they are.
An older child who throws a sustained tantrum uses a different part of their brain in its execution. It's not just a release of feelings and emotions (as you find in a toddler tantrum) - but a 'little bit' of thinking and planning with this tantrum. The child has decided that some need of theirs has not been met and that this is a good way of getting the result they want (parent attention or the toy etc). In this way, the behaviour is reinforced and this becomes a pattern of behaviour. They have, at some time, had a taste of the power that this type of behaviour brings and they want to repeat this to keep the power.
To start to unpack this behaviour, you need to think: 'what need could my child have that is not being met?' Statistically, the highest needs in an under 7 child are the need for love and connection with a parent. On top of this, the parent needs to be one keeping the child safe so you have a double task, to provide complete love and safety whilst disciplining the child to stop the pattern of tantrums continuing.
How do you do this?
With a child who is showing these sorts of tantrums, pure discipline will not work as you are simply reinforcing your own power and will make them even angrier and feel more isolated. You need a combination of firm boudaries, 'I am the parent and I am the one who controls things here and you may not like it, but I need you to respect this boundary and your behaviour needs to change.' And, in this instance, you have got to put your own feelings of anger and disappointment with them aside and you need to connect with your child and assure them of your unconditional love. You may feel like they don't deserve it - but the only way to change their behaviour is to build a new connection with them. Ways to do this is to have 1-1 time with them away from the house and the other siblings and reinforce their positive behaviour. In this way, they will start to unlearn the bad behaviour and feel more connected to the alternative - a new stronger connection with you.
You'll be amazed at how quickly their behaviour can and will change if you consistently keep that 'connection and love' line open and running.