For today’s new parents, the first time their precious little angel screws up her face and lets out a wail to rival an opera singer can be extremely discombobulating. Most of the time, the mother frantically tries to figure out why her darling is screaming and flailing about like a fish out of water. The father attempts to reason with the shrieker, only to find himself thoroughly rebuffed. Finally, one parent figures out that the child wants something and usually restores or gives the item to the child. Magically, the tears are dried up and smiles return.
A child, usually one of the cusp of walking, figures out pretty quickly that crying and/or screaming gets results pronto. An older child may add thrashing about on the ground or striking out with fists and feet as part of the expression.
Many parents are flummoxed when their child suddenly acts as if he were raised by wolves. The parents reason that they must be the worst parents in the world because if they were the best parents in the world, then they would prevent the child from having such a meltdown. So they give in to the child, the tears stop…until the next time. And there’s always a next time.
Why do children throw temper tantrums? Is it because they actually need something and can’t express themselves? Is it because they’re overtired? Stressed? Anxious? Frustrated?The simple answer is that children have temper tantrums because they want something they can’t have, or they want to do something they can’t do. In other words, when their will is thwarted—whether by their own inability to accomplish the task or because someone else has limited them—they just plain don’t like it. Wailing and flailing commences.
Sure, things like too much sugar, not enough sleep or lack of exercise can contribute to a temper tantrum, but don’t be seduced into thinking that if you can just get your child enough sleep and good food, she’ll never have another one. The best way to ensure your child will continue to have temper tantrums well past age 3 is to think you can figure out why she has them.
The why of temper tantrums doesn’t really matter. Why does anyone get upset about anything? It usually comes down to our own selfish nature. Part of the parenting process is to help our kids not give into that selfishness, to give them tools to overcome the innate nature of putting me first.
How to deal with temper tantrums is also fairly simple: do something. Sometimes having the child go to a special temper tantrum room (like a downstairs powder room or guest room) for the duration of the fit works. Above all, don’t give in and give the child what he wants, i.e., toy, food, permission to stay up late, etc. That only reinforces that throwing temper tantrums gets results.