Your eight-year-old is throwing a hissy fit. Slamming things down, tears, making angry roars and accusations: ’You hate me.’ ‘Nobody understands.’
It’s hard for a parent when a child has a tantrum. It’s hard not to react when your child’s having a meltdown. Occasional upsets happen, but when there is a regular pattern of challenging behaviour, a parent needs insights to know what to do.
The first thing to know is that an eight-year-old’s temper tantrum is not the same as a toddler tantrum. Just watch the child’s facial expression.
A toddler in a tantrum is distressed. She needs emotional support to regain her equilibrium. The toddler can’t help his tantrum. Sometimes life is challenging and big emotions can overwhelm. Because the young child’s brain is still under construction, sometimes meltdown happens.
An eight-year-old child’s tantrum is different. Look closely and you’ll see an angry face. Margot Sunderland, author of What Every Parent Needs to Know, refers to the tantrums of an older child as ‘little Nero tantrums’ because the child has learned to use this tactic to rule the household, like a mini-dictator. The child’s tantrum gets her what she’s demanding. So she learns to USE angry outbursts to control others.
Sadly, it’s us parents who teach children to continue having tantrums, long after the stage when they would naturally outgrow them.
We were coming out of the supermarket. The trolley’s laden with a full week’s groceries and our three-year-old starts performing: “I want my new toy.”
I say to him: “No – not now Johnny. Wait till we get home.”
“I want my toy.” Johnny starts winding up the volume and pitch.
“I want my toy.”
Everyone in the carpark is staring at us and Johnny gets louder and louder – wailing and carrying on until he’s in a full blown tantrum. I couldn’t stand it. I stopped right there and delved through the mounds of shopping until I found the toy. He wouldn’t stop crying till I let him have it. What could I have done differently?
It’s easy to give in to your child’s tantrum for the sake of peace. But what are you teaching your child: When you can’t get your own way, shout, wail and perform and if you do it loud enough and long enough you’ll get what you want! So what can a parent do to stop this challenging behaviour?
Focus on your breathing. You want your calm to be stronger than her anger. The strongest emotion will be the most contagious!