Temper Tantrums

In children who are not yet verbal, tantrums are commonplace.  They send a clear message to adults that the child is unhappy with the current situation.  He might want down on the floor, want the m&m’s in the checkout line, not want to give up that magazine he was destroying or just be tired.  Almost all children go through a stage of frequent tantrums.  The goal is to make tantrums only a temporary stage.

For children under 12 months, distraction often resolves the tantrum.  For older toddlers, ignoring works well.  After you start to ignore tantrums, you may notice that your child checks to see if you are watching and then revs up the tantrum to get your attention.  In other words, “if I’m a little more obnoxious, maybe they will give in.”  Shortly after this part of the tantrum, your child may attempt to get your attention by being cute or kind.  This is your cue to give some attention while remembering you still need to ignore the tantrum.

Tantrums are a lot of work.  If they never result in getting what your child wants, your child will give up and try a different strategy.  If they work occasionally, then they are worth the effort.  (Think of how many times you checked the change slot of a coke machine after finding a coin once.)  You may also find that your child stops tantruming with the adults who ignore the tantrum and continues with the adults who occasionally give in.

Ignoring tantrums in public places can be difficult.  In a store, you can take your child to the car until the tantrum is over.  The employees will happily hold your grocery cart for a few minutes.  The restroom is another way allow your child to finish in a less public area.  Regardless, if you give in while in public, your child will realize that tantrums work in public places even if they don’t work at home.

2 thoughts on “Temper Tantrums

  1. Erica

    Dr. Z: I have a problem. Grace LOVES, LOVES, LOVES her godmother. To the point that I ask..why was she even given to me. Yesterday, we were at a restaurant and her godparents were there. She actually rode with them to the restaurant after church; however, when it was time to go home, she wanted to go with them as well but she couldn’t. Needless to say, all TANTRUM HEAVEN broke loose. She acts as if we are AWFUL parents. It really hurts my feelings and I do my best to stay calm in the matter. I REALLY need some help in determining how to handle this.


    One of your BIGGEST FANS!!

  2. DrZ Post author

    Your daughter knows that tantrums usually don’t work so she doesn’t bother unless it is really worth it. She loves her Godparents and I suspect it is because they indulge her and make her feel special in the way that only grandparents, godparents, and other special adults can. One of the things that makes these people special is that they are only available sporadically (which is why they can spoil her without inconveniencing themselves very much). Children also recognize that these special adults are not obligated to love them or spend time with them. This is why your child is an angel for Grandma, the babysitter, the Sunday School teacher, etc. In her mind, if she does not please them, they may not want her. You, on the other hand, are her mother and it is your job to love her and sacrifice for her as far as she is concerned.

    I suspect that Grace’s tantrum would have 1) stopped when her godmother expressed disapproval because she so strongly desires to please her OR 2) continued because she secretly gives in to tantrums and that is why Grace had one. You could inquire if she ever has tantrums when you are not present in order to determine which is more likely.

    As for dealing with the tantrum, you are right to ignore and not give in. As a primary caregiver, you provide structure and expect your child to follow the family’s rules. This means you are the no-fun parent sometimes. Your child will not appreciate all you do for her for many years. Her preference for her godmother at times is not surprising. Don’t be discouraged. Maybe we should send our mothers a thank you card…

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