Coping With Extreme Tantrums...

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.

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Who's the boss ?

Have you got a ‘terrible tyrant’ at home?  Do you feel like your toddler or teen rules the roost?

Try to think of your home like a workplace and engage your brain to support your parenting style to create a work space that works for you.

A lovely term to describe this is, ‘Parenting up without patronising’.

It all comes down to your approach to discipline – or your lack thereof!  Every parent will know that if you let your child do something once, they’ll do it again.  It’s about management and discipline.  Work out what lines you won’t cross, and stick to them!  No matter how distressing the behavioural objections from your child.

Here are some strategies: -

Stay calm. If your ‘young boss’ is throwing a tantrum don’t get caught up in it.  It’s not a negotiation.  Be the adult and stay calm.

Anticipate problems. Children like routine; they want to know what to expect and when.  You’ll avoid a lot of problems if you give a heads-up to potential conflicts.

Use Humour.  As the adult, you have the advantage of great vocabulary, experience and being able to see the bigger picture.  Keep a sense of humour and you’ll be amazed at how it can diffuse a tense situation. With teens though, be careful not to patronise or belittle with sarcastic humour!

Give choices. Stay away from yes or no questions.  Give choices between 2 desirable options (i.e. the green top or the red top – rather than a top or no top)

Praise.  Counter negativity with positivity.  Trust us…it works!

Model good behaviour. Manage up by example. Take an honest look at your own behaviour to ensure you’re not a terribly boss too!

Keep it brief. Young kids have the attention span of…slightly longer than flies. Especially with teens – keep it short and simple – no lectures!

Give the full picture. As often as possible give reasons for your decisions.  Age appropriate of course – but a simple ‘no’ with no reason is a red flag to most kids.

Set boundaries. Know what you’re willing to tolerate - and get involved when you need to.  Don’t say ‘later’ or ‘when dad gets home’.  Deal with things as they happen.


Why does my child keep hitting others?

Has your child ever lashed out and hit you or another child?  Have you had complaints of your child kicking or shoving another?  How about hair pulling?  Just like tantrums (blog of the 12th June) - physical ‘violence’ in a child is something they need to learn (as early as possible) is unacceptable behaviour.  They must understand that there will be consequences with this type of behaviour and this does not mean hitting them back!

Why the violence?  Most of the time it is the result of feelings of frustration in your child.  It is their way of expressing a deep level of frustration or anger and they lash out physically at people they feel are ‘causing’ their pain.

 What to do?

Ask your daughter why she is feeling angry.  Ask your son what you can do to help him get rid of his frustrations.  Through talking to your child work out what is the cause of the behaviour and the reason behind their feeling hurt, pain or frustration.  Sometimes just by letting them know that you are paying attention and have noticed how they are feeling will already do a lot to reduce their frustrations.  Use positive parenting a lot – which in this case means age-appropriate directions and logical and clear consequences.   

Remember: No shaming / No Guilt / No labelling - it doesn't help things!

Just like everything else you do – be consistent.  It’s NEVER OK to hit another child or lash out in public.  Stop it the first time – and every time.  Be clear about what type of behaviour you expect – and MODEL it yourself.  Make sure your child knows you are watching carefully and praise them when they behave well.

It is so important to catch this early as if left unchecked - this can develop into some nasty 'bullying' habits later on....

+ More specific tips on biting in 2 weeks time…

My child is impossible !

Ever spoken those words?  Ever felt like ‘giving up’ when you child throws a major temper tantrum in the middle of the store and everyone stares at you?  Well – you’re not alone!  And let me assure you – no one’s child is perfect – no matter what they say or post on social media!  Every child will have something they battle with – and every parent will have areas of parenting they find particularly hard.  The trick is to learn as much as you can about how to cope and  manage your own parenting through all the trials and tribulations.  

Tantrums in Public
Although initially a tantrum is a reaction to a feeling – if children don’t learn how to control and cope with these feelings – their tantrums won’t just ‘go away’.  In fact, they may stay with them – or even get worse!  You think toddler tantrums are bad – imagine a demanding, excessive teenager!  You need to ‘check’ your child’s tantrums early on and teach them how to cope with how they’re feeling and channel this into the correct behaviour. 

For example – at the first sign of a tantrum (falling down on the floor; becoming hysterical; kicking; screaming) tell your child firmly ‘to stop or else we are going to leave (the store, restaurant, movie, friends etc).   If you feel more comfortable giving them a warning first, then do that.  But only 1 warning for a ‘tantrum’ event.  I.e. say: ‘This is your only warning.  You need to stop ‘behaviour’ or we will leave immediately’…and then folks…you MUST FOLLOW THROUGH !  That means no matter how inconvenient it is for you – you MUST LEAVE !  If you lose money – sorry for you – but it will be worth it in the long run.  If it’s embarrassing, say sorry and if necessary make it up to the friend/party parent etc later – but this is the only way your child will learn. 

Then.  When your child is distracted and has calmed down – try and find out what they were feeling at the time of the tantrum.  What made them feel so frustrated that they were unable to cope and had to behave in that way to express themselves?  Often they don’t have enough language to express themselves and they get beside themselves with frustration.  Try and learn how to pre-empt tantrums.  Watch their emotions and mood; work with actions (sign language) with them to communicate with you; give them some space to work it out; sometimes they need to be ignored; praise them a lot when they’re behaving well; create a diversion or distraction; hug them; use empathy; model the behaviour you want – be calm yourself & keep a sense of humour – laugh it off!

Then.  Really NB!  The next time you head out for a similar event – speak to your child beforehand and say, ‘we are going back to ‘name the place’.   I would like to see ‘name the behaviour you want’ as I would like to be able to stay for the whole event this time.’  Don’t blame the child and rehash their bad behaviour – use ‘I language’ and be positive about what you want to see happen.

Find more tips on our website:www.familyfocusuk.com (parenting tips)

+ More tips in the following weeks…