How to manage your pandemic baby’s temper tantrums

A lack of social interaction and excessive exposure to digital devices has made kids born during the pandemic prone to tantrums. Experts share suggestions on how to deal with the issue

Divya Naik
First Published29 May 2024
Exposure to digital devices can get a kid to suppress their emotions temporarily only to lead to a showdown later.
Exposure to digital devices can get a kid to suppress their emotions temporarily only to lead to a showdown later.(Unsplash/Nathan Dumlao)

In a world still grappling with the aftereffects of covid-19, parents of children born in 2020 and 2021 — pandemic babies — face a new challenge: an unprecedented rise in temper tantrums. Born at a time when normal social activities were on pause, these infants struggle to communicate their feelings, leading to heightened emotional outbursts, say parents and early childhood experts. 

“Juggling remote work and parenting, I often relied on digital devices to pacify my daughter, inadvertently reinforcing the behaviour,” reflects Sujatha Menon, a 28-year-old mother based in Delhi. According to clinical psychologist Akanksha Das from Fortis Hospital, Mulund, Mumbai, poor communication, inconsistent discipline and excessive screen time are often linked to behavioural issues. Research studies conducted during those years have also claimed that the pandemic had a deleterious impact on infants and young school-goers.

Also read: Why ‘kidfluencers’ need to focus on their mental health

Growing Pains 

A Co-SPACE (COVID-19 Supporting Parents, Adolescents, and Children in Epidemics) survey led by experts at the University of Oxford in 2020 reported that parents and carers of 4 to 10- year olds saw their children’s behaviour worsen with “an increase in behaviours such as temper tantrums, arguments and children not doing what they are asked”. “The parents/carers in the survey also reported that their children showed greater levels of restlessness/fidgety behaviour and difficulties concentrating over a one-month period,” states an article titled, Children show increase in mental health difficulties over COVID-19 lockdown, on the Oxford University website.

Another article, titled Babies Are Saying Less Since the Pandemic: Why That’s Concerning, on American educational news website Edweek cites research being done by The Advanced Baby Imaging Lab at the INSPIRE Center of Rhode Island Hospital since 2010. As per the study, “infants born during the pandemic vocalised significantly less and engaged in less verbal turn-taking behaviours that are critical for language development.” 

Temper tantrums are a natural and predictable part of child development. Dr. Asmita Mahajan, neonatologist and paediatrician at SL Raheja Hospital, Mahim, Mumbai, explains that tantrums are particularly common in children between the ages of 18 months and 4 years. 

“These emotional outbursts occur because children have not yet developed the vocabulary to express their feelings verbally. Instead, they communicate through intense physical behaviours such as screaming, kicking, and crying,” she says. Tantrums generally decrease as children mature and learn to express themselves in words. However, Dr. Mahajan warns that if tantrums are very frequent, extremely violent, or persist beyond the age of four, they may indicate developmental issues like ADHD or autism. “In these cases, seeking professional help is advisable to identify the root cause and provide the appropriate guidance,” she says. 

Dr. Debmita Dutta, a parenting consultant in Bengaluru, emphasises that children born during the pandemic face unique stressors. “Pandemic-related factors such as heightened parental paranoia and stress, lack of social activities and increased screen time have created an environment where tantrums thrive.” 

Key Triggers 

Family dynamics play a significant role in shaping children’s behaviour. During the pandemic, many parents struggled to establish boundaries due to work-from home stress, resulting in inconsistent rules and unpredictable routines.

Mumbai-based parent Neelima Mahajan observed behavioural issues in her son. She says that the tension of managing household responsibilities alongside remote work left her little time for quality interactions, making it difficult to provide consistent support to her son. “We tried to maintain a schedule, but the unpredictability of the lockdowns made things tough.”

Dr. Soumya Renji, consultant paediatrician, PD Hinduja Hospital and Medical Research Centre, Mumbai, says, “Heightened parental stress due to health, economic and societal concerns was absorbed by children making them prone to emotional outbursts.” Many families leaned on digital devices as virtual schooling and online entertainment became the norm. “Digital devices often suppress emotions temporarily, leading to explosive tantrums later. The complete dependence on devices prevents children from developing social skills through face-to-face interactions,” Dutta says. 

Both Renji and Dutta advocate for limiting screen time, which is in line with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines. “It is crucial to monitor and discuss content with children to encourage healthy screen habits in them,” Dutta says.

Offering a general perspective, Das suggests adopting an authoritative parenting style, which combines clear boundaries with warmth and responsiveness and provides an optimal structure for children to regulate their emotions. “Positive reinforcement encourages desired behaviour, while a structured routine provides predictability and stability,” she explains. 

Strategies to nurture better behaviour in kids 

  1. Limit digital exposure: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no screen time for children under two and limiting it to one hour per day for those aged two to seven. “Co-viewing, where parents monitor and discuss content with their children, helps ensure appropriate digital media use,” says Dr. Debmita Dutta. 

2. Positive role models:  Children often mimic their parents’ behaviour. 
    Dr. Soumya Renji advises parents to model emotional regulation by managing     their frustrations positively and avoid using devices as emotional crutches. 

3. Emotional vocabulary: Teaching children to articulate their feelings 
    helps them manage frustration constructively. Akanksha Das recommends           regular conversations and storytelling sessions to help them expand their             vocabulary and identify their feelings.

4. Healthy alternatives: Engage children in creative and imaginative play to         help them process emotions productively. “Drawing, storytelling and building     blocks offer productive ways to express and understand feelings,” says Dutta.

5. Seek support networks: Connecting with other parents and professionals         provides valuable strategies and encouragement, reminding parents that             they’re not alone. Sharing experiences creates a supportive community where     parents can learn together. 

Divya Naik is a Mumbai-based journalist and writer.

Also read: 5 mental health benefits of strength training for busy moms


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