These involve spectacular explosions of anger, violence, high pitched screaming, stiffening or flailing limbs, falling down or holding their breath until they turn purple. They may vomit, break things or fight you. Tantrums most commonly occur when children find themselves in situations that they canít handle, are stressed, over-stimulated, insecure or canít get what they want. An American survey found that 87% of 18mth-2 year olds threw tantrums 8 times a week; from 2-3 years, 92% exhibited tantrums 6 times a week reducing to 59% by the age of five. Boysí tantrums last longest.
If tantrums have already started, note whether they happen at the same time/place or in the same circumstances then try to avoid those situations . Remain calm, ignore the behaviour, avoid eye contact and move away. When a tantrum is in full swing, it is too late for reasoning. Never let your child sense that tantrums result in rewards. If they occur because the child doesnít want to do something Ė remove him. If it is because he canít get what he wants, use distraction. Be consistent because if you give in today and say no tomorrow, tantrums increase in frequency. Reward desirable behaviour and praise him when he manages frustration well. Help older children to practice coping skills for situations where a tantrum could occur. For example, ďIn 5 minutes I am going to ask you to turn off the computer. This is a chance for you to show how calm and grown-up you can beĒ. Show what 5 minutes is on the clock. If you are about to say no to a demand, ask the tantrum-prone child to take deep breaths and stay calm before responding.
Tantrums are especially draining and embarrassing when they happen in public. The authorís son put on spectacular displays in the supermarket, holding his breath until he collapsed, attracting everyoneís attention. Train yourself to ignore critical onlookers who sympathise with the child and criticise you. They have either never had children or had them so long ago that they have forgotten what itís like. And take comfort from the fact that tantrums donít last forever!
Emeritus Professor in Child Development
Dr Freda Briggs AO is Emeritus Professor in Child Development at the University of South Australia and author of "Smart Parenting for Safer Kids". "Smart Parenting for Safer Kids", reviewed by SingleMum.com.au here, gives tips on keeping children safe in a wide range of situations from cyber space and sexual abuse to bullying. The book is available in all good bookstores and can be ordered by phone on 03 9681 7275 or online at JoJo Publishing
You can read more of Freda Briggs's Profile here.
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