Tantrum - Putting a Stop to Temper Tantrums

Temper Tantrum, Acting Out & Child Discipline: Who's in Charge Here Anyway?

by Laura Ramirez

No doubt you've witnessed this before. You're in the grocery store and someone’s child—let’s call him Johnny— is throwing a tantrum because his parents have refused to buy him a sucker. He kicks, screams and arches. Giant tears drip down from his eyes. He throws himself to the floor and pounds his chubby fists against the vinyl. His parents hiss through plastic smiles that if he doesn’t stop, they’ll put him in timeout.

Although he’s not yet three, Johnny’s smart enough to know that there’s no punishment for throwing tantrums because there's no timeout in the store. His wails grow louder and although he truly seems distraught, when his embarrassed parents finally relent and give into him, his expression changes instantly to one of joy.

What just happened here? How does a temper tantrums instantly transform? And what’s that glint of triumph in Johnny's eyes?

Who’s in charge here anyway: Johnny or his parents?

You may think that the scene above is no big deal. After all, the parents stopped the tantrum and bought themselves some peace. But at what price?

And, more importantly, what does this teach Johnny?

What Johnny learns from his parent's reaction to his temper tantrum is that "no" eventually means "yes" and that throwing tantrums will get him what he wants. Not very healthy messages when you consider that the real world doesn't work this way.

Over time, if Johnny’s parents continue to give in to him, throwing a tantrum will become a coping style. That’s why we see ten year olds, fifteen year olds and even forty-five year olds, who charm, cajole and whine their way through life.

Modern parents are over-stressed and pressed for time. Because of this, they may resort to bribes or threats, rather than taking the time to correct and discipline.

Children need limits. Limits create boundaries and teach kids that people have boundaries and that their parents care enough to draw the lines. Discipline (which is not the same as punishment) teaches children self-discipline and how to behave appropriately in the world.

More and more, I see parents who are unable to handle their children. And I see kids who throw a tantrum whenever their current whim isn’t immediately satisfied. And many of these kids are not toddlers.

The problem: these children think that they’re in charge. The solution: parents must establish limits.


With discipline.

Discipline, when used wisely and compassionately, is an act of love. In fact, the two go hand in hand. Discipline comes from the word disciple, which is "one who learns." Teaching our children limits, appropriate behavior and self-control helps them to grow into mature adults.

One of the most important tasks of parenting is to teach children how the real world works. I remind my kids all the time that throwing tantrums won’t get them what they want. And I illustrated when they were throwing toddler tantrums, by not giving into them, by not valuing my sense of peace above their need to learn how to ask for what they want.

When my kids were toddlers, this meant that, quite often, I had to sacrifice my peace of mind. It also meant a bigger toddler tantrum, but that didn't bother me because I realized that it was more important to teach my children to be emotionally intelligent than to care about what other adults might think.

Of course, it would be easier to make the whining or temper tantrum stop by giving in, like the parents in our vignette. But I refuse to give up on my children. I’m willing to struggle with them and help them grow into responsible adults. And that’s exactly what I tell them. When they accuse me of being mean, as they invariably will when I won’t give them what they want, I explain, "I’m doing this because I love you and I want you to grow up to be good people." Eventually, the tantrums stopped because they realize they don’t work.

One of the hardest lessons for parents to learn about discipline is that they must be consistent with their child. If you say "no," then stick to that. Don’t give in after 20 minutes of unrelenting screams. If you do, then your child has learned that it takes 20 minutes of acting out for him to get what he wants.

And don’t be lazy. If you say your child is going to lose a privilege, then follow through. Otherwise your words are merely threats that carry little weight. Stop inappropriate behaviors when they start. Don’t wait until you can’t take it anymore - that’s when discipline has the potential to turn into violence.

Discipline should never be an excuse for acting out adult frustration, rage or violence. It should never be physically harmful to the child. It should never be an excuse for you to throw a temper tantrum of your own. Keep your focus on the positive. Talk to your child and help him understand how to treat others in caring ways. Recognize that every now and then, your child will test the waters to see what he can get away with. That’s his job. Yours is to firmly, consistently, and lovingly set the limits.

If your child seems to throw fits for no apparent reason, he may deficient in certain nutrients. Remember that proper brain development and behavior is contingent on the body receiving the nutrition it needs. Many parents have written to tell me that a holistic supplement has helped their children remain calm in situations in which they would normally throw a tantrum. Click on the link to read parent testimonials about how this product has transformed their children's behavior. Remember that food, proper sleep and nutrients and one-on-one time with our children help our children to feel safe and calm so that they do not become easily upset.

Copyright © 1999 by Laura Ramirez. All rights reserved. Laura is the author of Keepers of the Children. Her book shows parents how to raise children to develop their strengths and lead lives of meaning and fulfillment.

Laura Ramirez obtained her degree in psychology from the University of Nevada at Reno and has studied child development extensively. No ivory tower theorist, Laura has found that "experience is more practical than theory" and faces daily the challenges about which she writes. As the mother of two young boys, ages two and five, she advocates a return to grass roots parenting: the idea that with a mix of love, humor, discipline and an understanding of child development we can all raise children who are happy and well-adjusted.

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Copyright & copy; 1999 by Laura Ramirez. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied in full or in part, however, you may link to it from your web site, blog or forum.tantrum

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