||Subject: temper tantrums
My son is 16 months old and is starting to show his
temper when he does not get what he wants. Last night I took him outside
with me to grill out. He saw the swing on the other side of the yard and
walked over to it and began pointing at it. I was still at the grill and
told him he could not swing at this time because of my cooking our dinner.
After a few minutes of this, crying and telling him I was sorry; he walked
back toward me. When he got almost to me at the deck he began hitting the
deck and crying to get my attention. I told him I was sorry and we would
swing tomorrow when we got home. It took him several minutes to get over
this. He has begun to do something like this anytime he does not get his
way. Sometimes his mom or I will give in to the temper or tell him 'No
Sir' and let him cry it out.
Is this an appropriate approach to take or what
would be best to handle these situations?
Thank you for writing about this important topic,
and for being a caring father who wants to do what is best for your child.
Tantrums occur when a child, for whatever reason
(hunger, fatigue, anger, fear, stress, allergy) has gone beyond his
ability to cope with frustration.
The most important thing to remember is that this is
a child -- a person who is still learning about life and its complexities.
He or she simply has not had the time and experience that we have had to
understand and tolerate all the various sources of frustration. If we can
remember to take this into account, our own level of tolerance and
understanding will increase and make it much easier for us to intervene in
a caring and successful way. If we act on the assumption that the child is
doing the very best she can, given his age and level of experience, we
will then be able to express the understanding and compassion that is
necessary for handling a tantrum in the best way possible. If we act on
the assumption that the child should behave as would an adult at all
times, we are doomed to failure.
It is far easier on everyone, of course, if a
tantrum can be prevented in the first place, by being alert to a child's
growing restlessness or fatigue, and providing him with some enjoyable
activity. In the example you describe, for example, your son was becoming
restless while you were busy cooking. A busy parent and a bored child is a
combination that can often lead to tantrums or other troublesome behavior.
At those times, a little creativity can go a long way to prevent problems.
In your example, you might provide him with a cardboard box and a spoon so
he can pretend to barbecue as you are doing.
If, in spite of your attempts to prevent tantrums,
they continue to occur, try to determine if there is a pattern to them. Do
they occur at the same time of day, after certain foods, or with the same
people? If possible, avoid the source of the frustration, change the
child's schedule (perhaps he needs more rest before certain activities),
or avoid stressful overexertion, such as lengthy shopping trips.
If a child does have a tantrum despite your best
efforts, the most effective approach is one that is gentle, understanding,
and non-threatening. Tantrums are also distressing to the parent, of
course, but the child is less able to control his rage. If the parent
reacts with anger, impatience, or threatening words, that will only
increase the child's distress, because he is looking to the parent for
help. If it seems to the child that the parent is unable to provide this
support, that will only serve to frighten and upset him further.
(Punishment will only make things worse, because the source of the
behavior has not been addressed, the child will become more angry, and a
vicious cycle will result.)
While it may be difficult for parents to remain calm
when a child has lost control, it is vital that we provide this control
for the child. As Dr. Judith Kariansky wrote, "Remember, when they
have a tantrum, don't have one of your own."
As soon as a child allows it, try to calm him by
gentle touching and soft words. If you are in a public place, try to move
to a quieter, less crowded, and less brightly lit place. Nursing or a
nutritious snack can be helpful at that point (always bring snacks with
you when traveling away from home with a young child).
An excellent example of a gentle and effective
approach to a child's tantrum is presented in The
Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (written
and published by the La Leche League):
"When our youngest was about two and a half, a
friend had come for lunch, and Peter was for the most part amusing
himself. But late in the afternoon, when I told him to stop something he
was doing, his tolerance level burst and he had his first tantrum! I went
over and sat on the floor beside him and reached over to pat him gently.
At first he rejected my hand and literally threw it back at me. So I just
sat by him and waited, whispering "I love you Petey."
"He quieted very quickly and rolled himself
over to me, burying his face in my lap, and finished sobbing in comfort.
When the storm was over, he had forgotten what started it and we trotted
immediately to the kitchen. While I was happy and relieved to know that I
had been able to calm him, I girded myself for repeat performances. To my
surprise, he had only two or three more tantrums, and they were mild and
Parents who have been able to stand by their child,
letting him know they love him no less at difficult times, usually find
that tantrums become fewer and easier to control. Knowing that we are
loved for ourselves, regardless of whether we can always stay in control
of our behavior, is a very powerful source of inner strength and further