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Conscious Discipline's Ideas on Tantrums

Conscious Discipline, a highly respected program for children, makes suggestions that resemble the ideas stated above for temperament tantrums. In a video called Handling Temper Tantrums Dr. Becky Bailey describes steps to take. Dr. Bailey states that tantrums are normal up to age three. With children below three, tantrums happen when the child needs something, feels too tired, has become frustrated, or is hungry. Bailey continues by stating that typically, tantrums begin between the ages of fifteen months and three years. During this time span, a toddler grapples with the concepts of dependence and independence. Outbursts generally reflect the child’s inner struggle. Parents’ responses determine whether tantrums end or continue beyond toddler years. Problems can happen due to the following:

  • Inconsistency with routines or daily practices

  • Expectations that are too demanding

  • Rigid strictness

  • Over-protectiveness

  • Overindulgence

  • Lack of firm limits

  • Lack of the child’s ability to be realistic about the expectations of the parents

  • Distress over divorce, inadequate childcare, death in a family, or depression

When children over three have tantrums, Bailey claims it usually occurs because tantrums have worked in the past. Parents may have been too permissive, the child has become too tired or is experiencing too much stress.

Some children seem easygoing from the beginning, while others become stressed easily. Either way, a tantrum is non-verbal communication. Some tantrums occur when a child becomes overwhelmed. At other times, the tantrum happens because the child has gotten her way at some time.

Helping a child gain greater control has the potential to rewire her brain. Parents can help a child become calm by doing the following.

  • First, the parent must calm herself or himself.

  • The parent must also use empathy by teaching the child awareness of her body. “Your arms are flailing (demonstrate), your face is red, your feet are kicking (demonstrate).”

  • Next, encourage inner awareness by naming what seems to be the emotion being expressed by the body. “Your body seems to be telling me that you are frightened.”

  • Usually, a child will be able to affirm the feeling or make a correction. “No, I am not scared. I am angry that I didn’t get what I wanted.”

  • Clearly and firmly, tell the child what you want her to do. Offer two positive choices by saying, “You may choose to sit quietly while I read a story to you or you may ask Daddy to take a short walk with you. It’s up to you.”

Conscious Discipline also believes there are two ways to respond. Either walk away and leave the child alone or pick the child up and hold her close. Deciding which action to take depends on knowing the child. Some children immediately calm down when held and comforted. Others fight for independence. If you decide to pick the child up, hold her close as you say, “Breathe. You are safe. You can handle this. I am with you. I’ve got you.” In addition, honor the child who does not want to be touched. Even the child who prefers to be left alone can be taught to breathe deeply.

Encouraging a child to breathe provides a learning tool for future upsets. As a parent, you will decide which action to take based on your personality, your child’s preferences, and previous successes or disappointments with tantrums. Regardless of the type of tantrum, when it ends and all is calm, Conscious Discipline encourages you to avoid giving in to whatever triggered the initial conflict. Even if you must endure another tantrum, do not give in because of a meltdown. Please remember, if tantrums continue beyond age three it is usually because parents give in and give her what she wants. Once a child decides, I can get what I want if I make my parent miserable enough, the tantrums will continue.

This wholly depends on the child, in my experience. One child will find holding helpful, comforting, while others, when frustrated, don’t want to be touched.


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