How to cope with temper tantrums

It’s easy to feel relaxed while your baby is smiling and gurgling, but toddlers can change from cheery to teary in a millisecond. So how do you cope when this happens?

You never know when kids will "go off!"
You never know when kids will “go off!”

 By Katie Brown

OK. I confess, I sometimes think of my children as alarm clocks. The only problem is – you never know when or where they’ll go off. Most of the time they tick along, being cute, helpful and happy, but  without warning, the alarm sounds – and there’s no off switch.

And it always seems to happen when you’re in public or with your in-laws. Once, when my daughter Indi was three, she was so upset after I told her she couldn’t touch a china ornament in a shop       that she sat down and screamed. And screamed. And screamed.

I tried to pick her up, but she was squirming like an octopus, so I had to stand beside her and endure the scathing looks of other shoppers.

But there’s a way to deal with it. Psychotherapist and counsellor, Rebecca Edwards, says tantrums are an important part of a child’s development when they begin to learn to cope with disappointment, anger and frustration. She says tantrums peak at around two-three years, when children are beginning to talk, but can’t fully express their emotions. ‘The best thing for the mum,’ she says, ‘is to stay calm. If you are calm, you have more chance of calming your child.’

It’s also important to acknowledge your child’s feelings, come down to their level, look them in the eye and tell them you understand they feel disappointed or angry and that this feeling will pass. ‘This is very soothing for the child,’ Rebecca says. ‘And by doing this regularly, they will eventually learn to do this for themselves.’

Liesel Edis is mum to Charlie, five and Oliver, three. She says: ‘Charlie whinges and his voice is like a dripping tap with a really high pitch tone. And it’s like someone has given me an adrenalin shot and I feel instant stress. Whereas Oliver is more defiant and screams – but I can cope with this, because that’s how I tend to react!’

Liesel has found that by repeating regular affirmations she is able to deal with Charlie’s tantrums in a much calmer way. ‘I regularly repeat phrases such as: I’m grateful that I have two beautiful, healthy and happy boys. I have an abundance of patience and understanding. I have time. I am not in a hurry. ‘I deal with myself first and then I deal with the tantrum,’ she says.

Feelings like anger or disappointment are looked upon as being negative, but they are part of life, says Rebecca. If parents can accept this, they have a better chance of staying calm and dealing with a child’s tantrum – reducing those red-faced moments in public places!

For more information:

www.parenting.sa.gov.au – this site has a variety of handouts including one about tantrums.
Rebecca Edwards can be contacted via: www.talktherapy.com.au
This article first appeared in Fernwood magazine

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