||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
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
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
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 quickly over."
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 growth.