Ta-ta to tantrums
Most of us have been there; mortified at the supermarket check-out when two-year-old Molly pulls a fullon strop.
A dramatic, hysterical, clearly-visible, audible tantrum which leaves you frazzled, and feeling almost ashamed of your parenting skills.
You may appear as some sort of nasty child harmer to onlookers.
But anyone who tuttuts with the: ‘How can you not control your child?’ expression is most likely not a parent. The sympathetic glances thrown your way will come from someone who has been there, and possibly numerous times before.
Next time it happens, just remember that you are not necessarily doing anything wrong.
There are intuitive, coping and preventative strategies which will assist you to stamp out the trauma of tantrums.
Toddler tantrums are all too common. A tantrum is basically when a child loses emotional control and, in the process, creates distressing (if sometimes entertaining) scenes consisting of ear-bending shrieking, footstomping, hitting, throwing, biting and the flailing of limbs.
Tantrums mostly last between 30 seconds and two minutes, and 80 per cent of one to fouryear- olds experience them.
There is always a trigger factor behind the tantrum. Toddlers are egotistical and don’t possess the social skill set to realise that you can not expect the entire trolley be filled with coco-pops.
Here SWM looks at the causes of baby and toddler tantrums, and has the top ten practical and helpful solutions to guide you.
1 Identify the cause: Babies have more simple needs than toddlers. Infants cry for a basic reason - baby is simply trying to communicate and let you know something is wrong, albeit in a screaming manner. Investigate the possibility of a wet nappy, wind or colic or simply a need for secure cuddles.
2 Anxiety/Fear: Young children are perceptive and receptive to their surroundings. Something we deem small may frighten them; darting movements, being left alone, new faces or places, loud noises, bright lights, barking dogs, or someone not holding them correctly, thus making them feel insecure.
Gently coax your child towards new experiences. Always acknowledge their fears. Plenty of reassurance and hugs should ease their uncertainties.
3 Hunger pangs: This is a major cause of crying babies. Their tummies may be small, but baby is growing and needs regular nourishment. In fact, many babies are almost trying to tell you they need solids after those initial months. A three-year-olds’ issues may be more of the ‘I want this and that goodie’.
Limit treats to one or two per week and use a firm tone of voice for all unreasonable requests. Try not to waver on this as little people have amazing manipulation powers when they want something. You are the adult - show them you are in control.
4 Warn baby: The word ‘warn’might seem like a strong term for little children, but they respond best to clear communication. Before you decide to change activities, clearly indicate: ‘One more swing and we’re going home’; ‘after you get into you jim-jams, it’s a quick story and lights out’ etc.
Take no nonsense and they’ll soon learn, respect and enjoy such confident parenting.
5 Watch your mood: If you’re stressed-out and panicky, babies and young children will pick up on your emotions, and this increases their panic levels.
If the child is in the throes of a hissy fit, it’s of utmost importance that you take a nice deep breath and use a soothing tone and calm demeanour. Yes, this is a tricky one but vital.
6 Overstimulation: Babies and toddlers enjoy the excitement of new experiences and the fun and engagement of social settings. But they can easily become over-excited.
Too many voices, excess noise, hours on the bouncy castle and activities in one day can leave them tired, confused and irritable. Take time to bring them back to a state of calm and restore order before bed-time.
7 Realistic expectations: Give your child toys and aids that are suitable for his age. Teach baby new skills, but don’t have them running before they can walk.
There’s a fine line between preventing boredom, healthily encouraging development and over-trying and pushing a baby before he’s ready. This can be very frustrating for a child.
8 Regular routine: It is so important for all young children to have a regular and dependable routine - be it feeding time, story, bath or bedtime.
Keep your timetable as predictable as possible. It will make the joys of getting them to bed much easier.
9 Overtiredness: Children love to be part of what’s going on around them, even if it’s past their bed-time. They tend to remain awake, despite drooping eye-lids, and battle exhaustion.
Provide a quiet activity to calm them down and settle quietly to sleep. Try to do this at the same time each night. A regular sleep pattern will lessen the likelihood of a bad mood and its inevitable consequences the following day.
Like the rest of us, little ones need to slow down and unwind, perhaps to some soft music or the reliable little bed-time story before dropping off to the land of nod.
10 Stand your ground: Don’t give in to a child’s demands solely for peace’s sake. Learn your proactive and reactive strategies.
If you constantly conform to your child’s demands, you’re in for repeated episodes of behavioural outbursts and prolonging the agony for all involved. Change the subject and divert their attention. Praise them when they behave well.
A consistent and firm response will teach your little one that tantrums simply will not work. It may take a few tries but the power struggles will abate as you’ll educate your child and ultimately yourself.
So, here’s to no more supersonic episodes, and more positive parental experiences. Good luck.
Sunday World Magazine