THE DREADED T-WORD
Yip, you guessed it – tonsils.
No, seriously, just joking, I want to talk about tantrums. Although come to think of it, if those nasty little suckers get infected it can also bring the strongest parent to their knees. But that’s a topic for another person to dissect.
Anyway, back to the subject at hand, let’s talk about your kids throwing a wobbly, having a meltdown, a hissy fit, a hairy canary, a tanty or my all-time favourite, a vloermoer (got to love those descriptive Afrikaans words!). There are many, very expressive names for those heated little episodes and quite a few of them I can’t repeat here.
When you were younger, childless, and enviably less stressed, you would side-eye parents and their screaming banshees when you strolled care-free through the mall. You would never allow your child to do that! And now… how did that work out for you now that you are on the receiving end of the side-eyed glances?
Tantrums are the Achilles heel to the calmest of parents. The action of your child throwing themselves down on the floor like they lost all feeling in their legs, accompanied by a noise that reverberates around inside your head like an air raid siren, may cause you to have irrational thoughts that you would never dare voice aloud in fear of incarceration. Yes, you can give a little sigh of relief, you are not the only one to have thought those thoughts. Parents envision themselves in that orange outfit almost daily.
How should you handle a tantrum? Run away. Okay… not quite. What should you do after a tantrum? Run away before the next one. Uhhhh… no. I fully understand your need to follow your first instinct, but unfortunately, you can’t leave your little person alone, screaming and flailing in the sweet/toy section of the grocery store. It’s tempting, but someone will find you and make you take them back.
Let me share a little tidbit with you that might help you on your temper tantrum taming journey. Not all tantrums are tantrums. Some of them are meltdowns, and there is a big difference in what triggers them. Let me explain.
Tantrums are mostly triggered by your child being denied something they may want or want to do but can’t. This may range from wanting a toy, wanting to win, wanting to put their own shoes on and failing, refusing to put them on or just wanting attention. While it might not seem like it, a child in the throes of a tantrum does have some control over it. He or she may pause for a moment to see if they still have their audience’s attention before they resume their wailing serenade. Tantrums stop when their objective is met, and they get their way or their audience ‘closes the curtain’ so to speak and focuses their attention elsewhere.
Now a meltdown, on the other hand, is an uncontrollable feeling of being overwhelmed from a sensory overload, so much so that your little one’s brain cannot process all the information it is receiving. Something as simple as expecting your child to make too many decisions can cause this.
Places where all the child’s senses are being pushed into overdrive are very big culprits (malls, game arcades, social gatherings). Many experts believe that this is the child’s response to the brain’s need to fight or flight. A meltdown will typically come to an end when either the child wears themselves out or they are moved away from the meltdown trigger.
So, to sum it up, tantrums have a purpose and meltdowns are a result of a sensory overload.
Now, handling either one of these is easier said than done. As with all areas of correcting a child’s behaviour, how to guide them towards better behaviour is somewhat dependent on the personality you are dealing with. No one knows them better than you, and possibly their teacher (if she is a good teacher). So, use that insider knowledge and if need be, tweak the advice given here.
There is one factor, though, that remains the same… keep your reactions and consequences consistent!
Side note: Grannies, Grandpas, Aunties and Uncles, I am talking to you. If your sweetest darling grandchild/niece or nephew throws a wobbly when you are together for your weekly family dinner and mom or dad says “ignore it”, then please oblige. Behaviour modeling needs to be consistent from ALL the adults involved in the upbringing of the child.
Most of the time a tantrum needs to be ignored. Correcting the behaviour will happen after the hurricane has blown over. If your child is in danger of hurting themselves or others when the air raid siren turns into a wrecking ball, you may intervene and move them, or the potential victim to safety, then continue to ignore.
Now if the tantrum happens in the middle of Pick n Pay on payday weekend, you have two options. Firstly, you can wait it out and death-stare anyone who judgment-stares you. If this is going to be your choice then I recommend practicing the stare on your partner or even better, a teenager (nothing scares them). If the teenager nervously looks behind them to see if, by chance, they are not the focus of the stare, and give a stammering “w-w-w-what did I do?!” when they realise they are, then you have perfected it. Let your child tantrum away in public.
If you cannot perfect ‘the stare’, then I recommend you rather pick up your yodeling break-dancer and make a quick exit to a more private place, like your car. Wait for them to calm and begin behaviour correction.
All children throw temper tantrums, in varying degrees and at some point, or another, and some children, especially those with sensory processing issues, have meltdowns. Know the difference. A meltdown should not be ignored. You need to reduce the sensory input for a child experiencing a meltdown. A quiet place will allow your child’s brain a chance to ‘catch-up’. Be a calm, reassuring and a loving presence in their turmoil.
What is behaviour correcting, you may ask? Over the years and generations, behaviour correction has changed. Older generations will recommend the ‘5 love languages’ – that involves fingers 1 through 5, as well as a palm. Really hardcore parents used a shoe, possibly a belt. In most countries this is frowned upon nowadays and may land you a stint in that orange outfit.
If your child is throwing a temper tantrum to get attention then do not reward that negative behaviour with attention. However, once they are calm, reward that behaviour with attention. Depending on the age of the child you can also have a brief discussion with them as to why that behaviour is not acceptable and what type of behaviour is.
There is also a solution for the teeny tiny little tantrum throwers, the ones who haven’t discovered yet that feet are for walking and not just for sucking. It’s the art of distraction! It involves quick thinking from the distractor and a repertoire of funny faces and humiliating noises.
If the temper tantrum is in anger or defiance towards a given task, same rules apply. Ignore the tantrum and correct afterwards. Once your child is calm, repeat your request. The moment they comply, you shower them with positivity, enforcing the advantages of better behaviour.
It is by no means easy. Temper tantrums bring out a range of emotions in a parent. Failure taps you on one shoulder while hopeless despair and anger cha-cha on the other. You have a right to feel all of these but not to act on them, especially the last one. You are all big and grown up. You have learnt your lessons, some of us are still learning. We all throw some sort of a tantrum, even if it is in the confines of our head. Allow your child the privilege of learning though action. Let them discover what works, what doesn’t, what earns positive consequences, what brings on negative. Ride this wave and the very many more that are to come with your darling. All these waves are forming a personality.
Lean on those around you for advice. Take some with a pinch of salt and others with gravity because it is given in wisdom and ‘I lived through it’. Chin up, you can do this. Be stern when needed, but do it with love, always.