Monday, July 23, 2012

3 year old tantrums

A common Google search is "3 year old tantrums."
My granddaughter is a perfectly normal 3-year-old; She throws tantrums.

She has emotional meltdowns and subjects all of us, parents and grandparents, to the turmoil.

Concerned, I typed "3 year old" into Google. The search engine ventured to guess my next word would be "tantrums." Clearly, I am not alone.

I quickly learned that temper tantrums are normal. In fact, they are to be expected from toddlers and older children learning to handle frustration.

Truly problem children may be those who are no problem. Unfailingly obedient, they like to play it safe and avoid conflict by never disobeying. According to Alfie Kohn, author of Unconditional Parenting. Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason,

"When I ask parents, at the beginning of my lectures, what their long term goals are for the children, I hear words such as ethical, compassionate independent happy and so on. No-one ever says mindlessly compliant."

A compliant child becomes a particular concern, Kohn says, when they reach adolescence. "If they take their orders from other people, that may include people we may not approve of. To put it the other way around: kids who are subject to peer pressure at its worst are kids whose parents taught them to do what they're told."

I laughed out loud when I read the following in an article run by The Guardian.

There seems to be a real fashion for taming children and the reason seems to be fear: It's not that most people are worried about one incident of wall-scribbling, but that they seem to fear what this behaviour will turn into if it's not kept in check, as if all children are just waiting to grow up into sociopaths. One of the comments I get a lot, at the end of my columns for the Family section of The Guardian (when I have advocated understanding and a more what would be called 'softly softly' approach to a child) is something along the lines of 'they'll turn into a monster if you don't put your foot down/show them who's boss'.

"It's not based on empirical evidence," argues Kohn. "It's a very dark view of human nature."

I'm with Kohn, and so is my granddaughter. She shows no signs of being anyone's future door mat, and no signs of being the next Bad Seed as played by child star Patty McCormick. Fiona my have a bit of rebellious spunk, but she is still a wonderful little girl who shares her "Emma Ems" and delights in helping around the house. She throws a proper tea party that would make Strawberry Shortcake proud.

Having embraced tantrums as a necessary stage in growing up, what's the best way to respond to these angry outbursts fueled by frustration? Sometimes a simple reminder to "use your words" is all that is necessary. For a full-blown tantrum, a timeout may be demanded. (One minute for every year of age is the timeout rule of thumb.)

Although we cannot eliminate tantrums, we can encourage better behavior. I've gleaned the following from the Internet:

  • Be consistent:  Establish a routine for your child so that they know what to expect. Nap time and bedtime should be part of this daily routine.
  • The flip side of the above is don't worry if you child must deal with different rules in different homes. Parents and grandparents don't have to be on the same page, just read from the same chapter. As long as all parenting approaches are reasonable, go with the flow. Think of this as one more lesson on getting along in life. 
  • Plan ahead:  If you need to run errands, go early in the day — when your child isn't likely to be hungry or tired. If you're expecting to wait in line, pack a small toy.
  • Encourage the use of words:  Toddlers and young children understand many more words than they express. As communication skills grow, tantrums tend to subside but with one caveat: For this to happen, you've got to listen and respond. Many kids go through an "I'd-like-to-do-it-myself" stage. If they communicate this feeling, the game has shifted into your court. It is up to you to build the time into the day to give them the opportunity of putting on their own shoes. Tantrum avoided.
  • Give your child a sense of control, let them make choices when appropriate. You are in charge. Use that power to give your child the chance to make decisions. Instead of saying, "Time to get dressed!" say, "Do you want to wear the blue blouse or the green one?" Instead of "Time to go to bed!" try "Which book shall we read before bed — this one, or that one?" Keeping the choices to two is generally best. Your child is less likely to feel bossed around. Another tantrum avoided.
  • A corollary to the above is: Compliment your child on his or her choices.
  • Praise good behavior:  Offer extra attention when your child behaves well. It may seem like standard, appropriate behaviour to you, an adult, but performed by a toddler or young child good behaviour earns a little hand clapping.
  • Use distraction:  If you sense a tantrum brewing, distract your child. Try and change the focus of the moment.
  • In the same vein as above, avoid situations likely to trigger tantrums.
  • Resist the temptation to give in:  Giving in to your child may quiet things down for the moment, but may teach them that tantrums work. Don't lay the foundation for future tantrums.
  • Lastly, take a deep breath  — both you and your child need to do this. Your child needs to regain control and you've got to keep control. If you are both upset, it's only going to make things worse.
We're all familiar with time-outs, but are you familiar with time-ins? Dr. Lawrence Kutner says,
"As children reach the preschool years, their interactions with their parents change. Because they are becoming more competent at dressing themselves and using the toilet, parents usually touch them much less. That means that older children do not get the rewards of physical attention that they once did. Yet they still need and crave lots of brief, affectionate contact throughout the day. That is where time-in fits. It is a way of lowering your child’s frustration level and averting some potential behavior problems. Throughout the day — perhaps 50 times a day or even more — when your child is behaving in an appropriate way, take two seconds to let her know in a nonverbal way that you approve. You can do this by briefly giving her a hug, stroking her hair, scratching her back, planting a kiss on the top of her head, or anything else that does not interrupt what she is doing but still gets the message across. In other words, you are reinforcing her when she is handling things well."

The most reassuring thing about tantrums? Most children outgrow them by age 4 or 5.

Give the child a sense of control and avoid a few tantrums.

No comments:

Post a Comment