It is often difficult for parents when the watch their children being upset and unhappy. We want our children to be happy and when they aren’t we may feel a sense of helplessness and frustration. At these times parents may become self-critical. The parent’s sense of discomfort combined with self-criticism may often lead to the parent becoming emotionally reactive themselves.
Typically when we think of tantrums we may think of younger children. This is not always the case, and when older children have difficulty managing anger or demonstrate tantrum like behaviors they may frequently feel quilt or shame regarding their inappropriate on uncontrolled emotional expression. What can we do to help our children who have developed habitual habits of negative expression and demonstrate frequent tantrums? We need to intervene as quickly as possible with a strategy for helping them learn to be more comfortable with themselves and learn to get what they need in a more positive manner. The more the pattern of negative acting-out becomes ingrained the more difficult it is for them to change their behavior.
The first major thing we need to do is to establish clear guidelines and expectations for their behavior. The more adults work together to develop what I call parental teamwork the more effective we will be at helping our child or children. When mom and dad along with home and school create a united front our efforts become much more effective and are children experience less stress.
It is important to keep in mind that our goal is to be helpful to the child that we love, although important it less about dealing with our own frustration. Lets be honest we do need to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of our children. If we become too frustrated it is not good for us and we will likely become emotionally reactive and unproductive.
The way I see it, we all develop a strategy for operating on the world to get what we want. We may learn that if we work hard we can get the material things we want and feel good about our efforts. Not only may the goal be important but the way we feel about ourselves may become rewarding in itself.
As our positive efforts are rewarded we are more likely to continue behaving in this positive manner.
The baby in the high chair quickly learns that he or she can make the “Giants” do what they want if they throw the rattle or toy on the floor. It becomes a game in which the child throws the toy and the adults bring it back. Not only are they able to assert some control in the environment but they may also enjoy the attention and interaction with adults. This is much like what happens when we want the family dog to bring the newspaper or Frisbee to us. This strategy develops out of trial and error and the growing child learns to use its own intelligence and problem-solving ability to influence its environment.
If our child has developed a negative strategy for getting what they want, what can we do to change things around? If we reward them by giving in to their demands we may be teaching them that their negative strategy is working. If we don’t give them what they want but become emotionally reactive the emotional reaction and our attention may be rewarding in itself. We need to be careful that we to not feed tantrums by giving them too much attention at these times. If we can be less emotionally reactive and respectfully hold our ground, overtime it is likely that the tantrums will subside.
- Develop effective parental teamwork.
- Respectfully clarify rules and parental expectations.
- Politely clarify consequences for rule-breaking behavior.
- Follow through with implementing consequences when necessary.
- Be gentle when implementing consequences and use the least amount of consequence or leverage possible.
- Reward positive behavior.
- Be mindful not to reward negative behavior with excessive adult attention.
- Be realistic regarding expectations for your child as well as expectations for yourself.
- Be patient with yourself and make efforts at reducing your own emotional reactivity.
- Develop active-listening skills to improve parent/child communication.
Keep in mind that it may take time for your child to develop more positive strategies Change does not happen overnight and may take some time for you to alter your own behavior to improve parenting skills. In the long term your efforts at improving parent /child communication and implementing structure will help your child experience less stress and have a happier life.