If You’re Going to Throw a Fit, Make it a Bene-“fit”
Have you ever felt held hostage by your child? It can happen anywhere: in our homes, malls, and grocery stores. When children throw temper tantrums it can feel like they’re holding their parents hostage to their emotional state. The child may also feel held hostage by emotions they do not yet have the skills to express healthily. This is when we, as parents, must forge ahead and turn that fit into a benefit. And the benefit is not only for the parent but for the child, too.
There are several ways a parent can respond to a tantrum to turn the fit into a benefit. First, the parent should consider what the cause of the tantrum is:
- Temper tantrums require an audience. A child may use an emotional outburst to gain attention or to retaliate after disappointment. The best way to respond to this kind of fit and turn it into a benefit is to remove the child from the audience. If it happens at home, make sure the child is in a safe place, like a bedroom, playpen, or crib. The benefit of removing the child from his audience is that his tantrum will most likely die down quickly. During the tantrum, the child may throw toys or create a mess. If this happens, the child should be required to clean up his mess (age-appropriately) after he has regained self-control. Tantrums thrown at the grocery store, or any other store, are also usually seeking an audience. The parent may have to face the inconvenience of leaving her groceries or other merchandise behind, but the benefit of your wise response is two-fold – peace and quiet for those around you and the child learns that a tantrum is not an appropriate way to express strong emotions, even at a store.
- It is also important to bear in mind that a non-verbal child may be using a tantrum to communicate fear, frustration, disappointment, or a miriad of other emotions for which they do not yet have words. Even a child who has words in a moment of peace may not have the skills yet to access them when overcome with sadness or frustration.
- Is your child exhausted? Her fit might be more of an emotional meltdown due to fatigue. The parent’s response to this one is simple – your child needs a nap. Just like the above scenario, if you remove the child and she falls asleep in her room, crib, playpen, or car seat then the tantrum was probably due to a lack of sleep and the benefit to the child and to the parent is a much needed nap. Your child will awaken happier, with more self-control, and better able to handle her emotions.
- Tantrums can also be brought on by frustration. The child wants to accomplish a task but lacks the ability to do it the way he wants to, so he becomes frustrated. A parent should respond to this type of fit by telling her child to “use his words” or ask for help. The child benefits from this parental response because he is learning to gain self-control as he communicates his struggles to his parent. A child may also become frustrated if the parent failed to provide pre-activity instruction/warnings. Pre-activity encouragement enhances communication between parent and child. Giving verbal reminders, using positive words to give instructions, and asking dialogue questions about behavioral expectations reduce frustration levels. In addition, giving a five minute warning, where appropriate, before changing activities can help a child to transition peacefully and experience less disappointment with an unexpected change. To benefit both parent and child, use pre-activity encouragement and you will avoid much frustration.
- A tantrum may sometimes also be caused by just plain selfishness. These types of outbursts may occur at the store when a child sees something she wants. When her parent says no, her feelings of disappointment could result in an emotional outburst. Tantrums should never be rewarded just to keep the child quiet. To turn this fit into an opportunity for connection and growth, the parent can make a trip to the car. Consider the valuable opportunity in this moment to connect with the child in a moment of sadness. It is ok to validate the feeling of disappointment without encouraging the uncontrollable behavior. Whatever discipline the parent has decided is appropriate for the situation can occur after connection has been made and when the child has regained self-control. Once this process is complete and peace is restored to both parent and child, they can try to return to the store. T
The next time you are faced with a child having a fit, I hope these five tips will help you to turn it into a benefit. In training up a child, engaging their heart even in inconvenient moments such as tantrums will always yield so much more fruit.
Hebrews 12:11 “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Cynthia Schrock was born in Ohio but grew up on the mission field with her parents in Quito, Ecuador. She married her wonderful husband Eric in 1990. They have two adult children: Ashley and Matthew. In 2016 Cynthia completed a 13 year long journey of homeschooling. Eric and Cynthia have been involved in marriage and parenting ministry over 20 years. Cynthia is a Contact Mom, helping moms with solutions in their daily parenting struggles. She has also authored a book on celebrating others called The Ultimate Gift of a Birthday.