My five-year-old daughter has developed quite a temper. At the slightest excuse, she loses her head, starts screaming and has on occasion even hit me. There is no corporal punishment at home or in school. She’s usually well-behaved in front of others, but reserves her worst behaviour for me, when we’re alone together.
Anyone who has experienced these meltdowns knows they can leave you exhausted and frustrated. The first thing to do is to rule out any physical problem that may be at the root of this behaviour. Your paediatrician can guide you; there are investigations for deficiencies or syndromes that can prompt such rages. Once physical problems are ruled out, your work is cut out.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Some parents anticipate a tantrum and try to redirect their child’s attention. Others say that in the beginning stages, before the child is really worked up, scoop her on your lap, gently rock her and acknowledge how she is feeling. She will calm down and soon be fine. Both these strategies work most times, but children are quick to see that you’re being appeasing, can refuse to be distracted and have the tantrum anyway. Then what do you do?
Many parents give their screaming child a time-out, either by putting her in another room (but please, no locking in bathrooms, etc.), or by leaving the room themselves and not engaging with the fit-throwing child. “That way, it becomes clear to my child that screaming and whining are the ways she can be sure to not get what she wants,” says Meera Srinivasan, who uses this strategy.
Handling tantrums is one thing, reducing their occurrence is even more important. Parents are often torn between giving in and getting instant calm to prevail, knowing they are warding off the awful behaviour, but also knowing that there will be more to come. The other shaky strategy is to battle it out with the child, which may ultimately get her to stop, but takes a huge emotional toll on parent, child and the entire household.Either way, you are being manipulated by your child and no long-term good can come of it.
The bottom line is to set limits. A child having a tantrum is testing you to the hilt and so setting limits, for her as well as yourself, is something you must urgently do. For instance, you could draw the line at hitting. Simply switch off when she throws a tantrum. Leave the room or get busy with something and don’t get drawn into interacting with her at all.If your daughter sees that she’s not getting a rise out of you, then she will eventually quieten down. The less importance you attach to your daughter’s tantrums, the fewer you should see.
Don’t get into a reward-punishment cycle when it comes to tantrums. By saying “if you don’t throw a tantrum today I will give you this” or “you don’t get to go to the park because you had a fit”—you’re giving the tantrum too much importance. Simply become ‘unavailable’ to your child, either physically or emotionally. And you could see some results. Good luck, it takes strong nerves.
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