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Temper Tantrums: How & Why?
July 13, 2012 by Dr. Mandar V. Bichu
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Temper Tantrums: How & Why?

The entire supermarket is watching you and you have no place to hide. Your toddler son- the love of your life, the pride of your eyes is squatting there and is at present at the centre of an emotional hail-storm. He is screaming, crying and kicking right in the middle of the main passage, chanting one thing repeatedly-“I want that toy.”

Well, substitute a theatre for the supermarket, a daughter for the son and a chocolate for the toy and still the scene is pretty familiar. This is the typical ‘temper tantrum’ seen in children.

Temper- tantrums are prolonged emotional outbursts after relatively minor stimuli, seen primarily in the age-group of 1-3 years but can even occur earlier or later. Boys and girls are equally ‘good’ at throwing tantrums.



Before going on to strategies to tackle temper tantrums, parents should understand why the children are prone to these unpleasant outbursts.

From the child’s point of view, most of these tantrums are power struggles about control. As infancy (1st year) comes to an end and toddler-phase (2nd and 3rd year) begins, the mental make-up also changes. Many new skills are constantly being acquired in terms of walking, running, speaking, feeding and other day-to-day activities. The small fellow feels ready to take on the world with this repertoire. ‘I can do everything’ and ‘I can have everything’ is his attitude but this newfound confidence and independence is challenged by parental interference. Parents interfere because they are either unsure of their child’s ability or because they feel the activity or acquisition might be dangerous or destructive. A child with an aggressive, active personality is more liable to feel frustration at such interference and might resort to tantrums.

Sometimes these tantrums are as a result of craving for parental attention and child uses them as tools to get that attention. Up to a limit, temper tantrums are to be considered as a normal stage in the child development.

Indulgent, ignorant, impatient, insensitive and inconsistent parenting is often at the root of this problem. The parents who are lavishing toys, sweets and gifts without a reason; those who are allowing certain liberties at times and then changing the rules frequently; those who are too strict or too lenient; those who are unhappy, fatigued or impatient; those who fail to understand individuality of their children and those prone to public display of anger are the ones who are most likely to see tantrums in their kids.

Frequent temper tantrums could sometimes be manifestations of a hearing, speech or vision problem; a learning disorder; a psychiatric illness or any other chronic illness in the child.


How to manage?

  • Keep cool. Your anger and frustration will make the situation worse.
  • Analyse the cause of tantrum. If it is about some forbidden activity (e.g. ‘Don’t take that thing!’), then judge how significant that decision is for you and your kid. If that activity is likely to be dangerous or destructive, then stick to your decision but just remove the desired object out of sight.
  • If you feel you have been too harsh in your original decision, then revise it. Still make sure to explain that it was due to your own re-thinking and not due to the pressure of the tantrum.
  • Try distraction technique by offering something more interesting (e.g. a toy or a TV program) or taking the kid away from the scene of ‘offence’.
  • Reasoning or intelligent negotiations are not strong points of small children. So don’t waste your time in doing that.
  • If you want to shout, just keep it short and snappy. Express your anger and then leave the scene for a while.
  • Ignoring the tantrum completely – i.e. making no fuss and avoiding any positive or negative reaction, while remaining close to make sure the kid is not hurting himself is perhaps the best way to deal.
  • Physical punishments are useless and might reinforce the negative behaviour.
  • In school age children, giving them an option of a time-out alone to cool down is often possible. Praise them after gaining control.

When do we need further investigations?

  • Too frequent, too severe and too prolonged temper tantrums.
  • Destructive tendencies.
  • Frequent mood changes.
  • Anxious or withdrawn child.
  • Associated physical symptoms like headache, vomiting or speech/ vision/ gait disturbances.

How to prevent?  

  • Define your disciplinary limits clearly and consistently.
  • Keep in mind that ‘They are just kids’ and then try to modulate their behaviour.
  • Every child is an individual and you have to be flexible in your approach to control them.
  • Kids should understand clearly that you love them. Express your love through words and deeds. Showering them with gifts and goodies is not necessary and is in fact detrimental.

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