As parents, one of the biggest challenges we have is handling childhood temper tantrums. They can be frustrating for parents. They're usually come from some frustration for the kids that they haven't learned how to handle in some better way.
Some amount of tantrums is normal, especially in kids under 2, who are learning self-controls and boundaries and expression. Just because your toddler has discovered his new favorite word is no, does not mean he is becoming a defiant and non-functioning adult. The “Terrible Twos” have that title for good reason. Lack of control is normal in babies and young toddlers. 2-year-old temper tantrums, while normal, require being dealt with.
Just Because They Are Normal, We Still Need to be Handling Childhood Temper Tantrums
Children learn because we teach them. If we consistently teach proper behavior, children learn pretty quickly what will and will not work.
If a parent ignores the tantrum, it will frequently end, and then you and your child can go about the rest of your day. It could be a time-out is needed. Or perhaps a distraction, after a short period. See this post on Mindfulness in Parenting.
When Do Tantrums Become Abnormal?
It is both normal and healthy for children to offer some resistance, just as it is for adults. If we did not, we become doormats, and fail to fully develop our creative, thinking and growing personalities and potential.
A two-year-old doesn't yet have the vocabulary to express frustration. When things seem unfair, like not being able to play with a toy, or having to go to bed, he is likely to express his frustration with a temper tantrum. When your two-year-old discovers the power of NO, that's normal! It helps with being mindful to keep in mind what is normal.
As your child gets a bit more mature, vocabulary grows, and with mindful parenting we can help him learn to express himself with words instead. If he doesn't learn how to do this, he will be handicapped in life. He has to learn how to creatively resist and express himself in order to succeed in school, and in college and career and in relationships.
ODD, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, can get diagnosed in early elementary school. This happens when parents fail to learn handling childhood temper tantrums and outbursts to channel into more creative expression of frustrations. Frustrations will happen. We need to help them become growth and development launches, not causes for failure and retarded growth.
What Are the Causes of Abnormal Tantrums?
A big cause of Abnormal Tantrums is that we as parents have not been mindful and consistent. BUT there can be disorders that are biologically-loaded into your child that may be a cause, too.
Autism is a condition that is becoming more and more prevalent, whether from increased recognition or from poor nutrition or other causes that are currently unknown. It is a subject of extensive research.
When a child is autism, communication can be hard for him. He requires a lot of consistency and routine in his life, and distractions and surprises can cause frustrations that lead to outbursts. Imagine, be present with, how this feels for him. It's not easy, and a tantrum can result.
When there are learning disabilities, especially undiagnosed and untreated, this can lead to childhood outbursts. The frustration of not being able to learn when others around him are, can result in acting out by attacking others or being disruptive – like clowning in class. Clowning can give its own reinforcement by causing attention and laughter.
ADHD, Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, means that your child has a hard time sitting still and is easily distracted. ADHD makes learning a challenge in school, and challenges arise on the homefront.
An anxiety disorder can lead to outbursts and temper tantrums. Anxiety can come from chemical imbalances, and it can also be a stress reaction to undiagnosed learning disabilities or as a result of PTSD to childhood trauma or abuse and/or neglect.
Bipolar chemical imbalances have been around for a while and are treatable. A person who is bipolar has episodes of manic to depressive behaviors and reactions, more than normal mood swings. There is a new subset of bipolar that has been presented called Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD), for more extreme conditions, where the swing is less episodic and more continual.
It's good to discuss what is going on for your child with his doctor, and with the schools. He may need special coaching or even medical treatment to help if there is a chemical imbalance. Relieving that frustration will help a lot, if he is biologically-loaded for extra frustration levels.
When Parenting Is the Cause
As parents, a temper tantrum can make it hard for us to self-regulate. It may be hard to avoid not going to extremes. One extreme might be yelling, or spanking, or throwing your own tantrum. When I was growing up, that's how I was raised, so that was my role model for parenting. Any of you have that?
I had to learn to act outside my role model, to learn better and more mindfully creative ways of handling childhood temper tantrums.
Overcoming a built-in role model is another level of challenge. All the hyper-disciplinary actions do is to teach our kids the same thing, that shouting or hitting or being aggressive are good ways to act. They do nothing to teach self-control and better behaviors.
The other extreme is permissiveness…like giving 5 more minutes before having to get ready for bed or for a meal. When we do that, our child learns that by throwing a temper tantrum, he gets 5 more minutes. Nice reinforcement for bad behavior.
A way to keep a steadier track is to be mindful about what is happening. We have a whole post on that for you here. It can get hard to maintain consistent mindfulness and responsiveness to a temper tantrum. We can get tempted to take short cuts just to try to restore family harmony for that particular moment.
In the meantime, here are three steps:
The Steps for Mindful Parenting Strategies are
- Slow down and take a deep breath. Parental stress is a contagious dis-ease.
- Accept yourself and your child as flawed and growing human beings
- Make your home a safe place for both of you to be and to grow
If you are in a position where you've been inconsistent and the tantrums have been going on, it will take time for both you and your child to learn new patterns. Being more mindful is a process for both of you. Sometimes, it is good to get some outside help, from a pastor or a family counselor when things are too out of whack.
Remembering that every short-cut has a result of reinforcing a bad behavior can help you to maintain consistency. When we know that going ton one extreme or another teaches our little one that his temper tantrum worked, he is learning to have tantrums. When we know consistent timeouts and quiet correction teaches good life-skills, that helps us do what works.
How has that worked for you? Share your strategies and stories! You can help all of us grow and become better and more creative parents.