In my previous article, I wrote about why babies cry. This article is on why kids throw tantrums.
A tantrum is an emotional outburst, as Wikipedia defines it, but most parents will agree with me that that is an understatement. When throwing a tantrum, kids can become unbelievably unreasonable when things do not go their way and parents try their best not to throw a tantrum themselves.
It can feel very challenging when kids break down in public and parents can often feel helpless. To understand why kids have tantrums and how we can handle them better, I have consulted Felicia Ang, a senior behavioural therapist of Healis Autism Centre, for some tips.
"Why do kids throw tantrums? Why can't they talk or ask properly?
Felicia: We often view it as an access to the tangibles - they want to get something they aren't getting. If they learn that throwing a tantrum is a way for their caregivers to give in and give them what they want, they are more likely to throw tantrums in the future since it’s a strategy that works!
Kids naturally want the attention of their parents. Unfortunately, it is not always common for parents to pay positive attention (meaning attention to the good things they do – e.g. sitting nicely at the table to eat, showing their manners, being considerate etc.) because it is considered to be a kind of “expected behaviour”. Conversely, parents jump to attention when kids get into trouble. We call this negative attention. In the long run, kids learn that they have to act out in order to get their parents to attend to them. In other words, any kind of attention (even negative ones) is better than no attention.
Sometimes children also throw tantrums to express how they feel because they know no better way to do it.
"What can parents or caregivers do to calm an upset kid?"
Felicia: There are many ways parents and caregivers can calm upset children. Listening to them without refuting how they feel is one good way to calm them down. You can give hugs, hold their hands, sit with them, etc. I honestly think parents will know better how to help their children calm down. Every child is different, so giving hugs might not help as much as giving them some quiet space on their own. Parents can apply the intimate nuggets of knowledge they have gleaned from paying attention to their child on a day-to-day basis. Go with your instincts! (Unless it’s to shout at them. I find that that doesn’t usually help.)
"How do we teach kids how to express themselves without having to throw a tantrum?"
Felicia: Try to be expressive yourself. Humans learn the most from copying the people around them. If you have the habit of expressing yourself in positive ways, your children will be much more likely to pick up the skill of expressing themselves too. Talk about how you feel about things as well as your preferences or thoughts with them. Also, make an effort to include cause and effect, e.g. “I feel upset because my toast is burnt and now I can’t eat it!” to help them understand how their emotions may change because of events.
The same way, they can also pick up not-so-good habits. If Daddy slams the table when he’s angry, then the child may also learn to express their anger the same way.
Can you relate? Were/Are you the child or the parent or the main caregiver? If you could relate to the article, don't feel bad. Most people struggle to learn how to be parents, especially good ones. And you know what? It's never too late to learn how to communicate to our kids. It's never too late to pick yourself up.