There is a very popular concept going around the is pretty much universally accepted by most researchers, that when a child has a tantrum because he or she wants something, and you give in to the tantrum and give him what he wants, you behaviorally reinforce the tantrum, ensuring that he will have more tantrums in the future. The logic is that the child sees that having a tantrum gets him the reward he wants, so he is motivated to have more tantrums in the future as a way of getting what he wants. I actually agree that giving in can lead to more tantrums, at least in the short run and under certain conditions. But in discussing how to deal with temper tantrums, my point is you should still give in to them as best as you can anyway, and combined with some other strategies, you will in the long run actually eliminate tantrums! Let me explain…
A tantrum is inconvenient, embarrassing and frustrating for parents, but it is not the real problem in itself.
It is a symptom of a problem. The real problem which causes the tantrums most of the time, is that the child has a lowered happiness level, and his emotional needs are currently going unfulfilled, to the point where he feels desperate and that the only way to express his feelings and relieve his suffering is to have and anti-social and troublesome tantrum. If you could magically snap your fingers and make all your child’s tantrums disappear, that would be more convenient on the surface, but you would still be left with a major emotional problem in the child going unaddressed, and in fact you would have lost your valuable warning indication of the problem, the tantrum. Such a child will surely develop other major issues sooner or later.
Therefore since the tantrum is only a symptom of a problem and not a problem in itself, and eliminating tantrums if you could in itself is no solution, it follows logically that increasing the frequency of tantrums behaviorally by giving into it as we said above, is no real problem either!
Whether or not he has tantrums is not the right conversation we need to have. Rather the proper medicine is to ensure that the child has a sufficiently elevated contentment level, and that his emotional needs are being properly fulfilled. The only thing that counts is what brings us closer to that goal! Therefore, let’s say if a child has not been having such a great day, and he feels he desperately needs some ice cream, and you say no and he tantrums, if you give in and buy him the ice cream, you are in effect telling him, “I see that you are terribly upset and unhappy. I take this situation so seriously that I am going to do everything in my power to relieve your unhappiness and fulfill your emotional needs, such as buying you the ice cream right now, so that you will see that I mean business about making you happy. And even though by doing so I may be behaviorally encouraging you to tantrum more in the future short run, I am not principally concerned about my inconvenience as a parent. I am only concerned that you should be happy and well. If as a result of me giving in you learn to tantrum more in the future, then more power to you, I welcome your tantrums as an important and useful reminder that I need to do a better job of making you happy and fulfilling your emotional needs. And if you continue to tantrum in the future I will double down on my efforts to raise your happiness level more consistently ahead of time which will serve to prevent further tantrums from happening.” That’s the critical point. Instead of focusing on fixing the tantrum-symptom, you need to resolve the root cause of the problem using techniques which I will write about shortly.
And then the child will be so content that he will not longer have the need to tantrum at all, and the fact that you have behaviorally reinforced the tantrum by giving in will be completely irrelevant!
Now giving in to today’s tantrum is a critical first step to ultimately raising that happiness level and resolving the real problem. Furthermore, all the researchers agree that in order for giving in to actually result in more tantrums behaviorally, you need to do it with a certain frequency, such as every day or at least maybe several times a week. But if you give in to a tantrum only once every two weeks or less, it will be unlikely to cause any more tantrums even according to them, and will therefore surely not be a problem!
How to deal with temper tantrums: how do I make the child happy and reduce tantrums for good?
One important way of raising the contentment level is to increase the child’s sense of self-determination. Many loving, dedicated, well-intentioned parents may be making the mistake of being just a bit to bossy, over-protective, micromanaging and over-controlling. Just issuing 2 percent more commands or directives each day can add up over time to create a child who is extremely angry, frustrated, miserable and rebellious, which can explode into frequent tantrums. Therefore as I write about in my blog, most parents need to reduce commands and bossiness across the board, and it will result in a much happier and agreeable child. Which commands should you cut out? The small ones. A little reflection and you will realize that there are many directives parents give to their children which are not really necessary and are fueling a problem.
Another way to increase happiness
is to be meticulous to always speak to the child in a sweet, pleasant, kind, gentle, joyful, positive and encouraging way. All harshness, criticism, negativity, yelling, pressure, sarcasm, arguing and conflict should be reduced as much as humanly possible. Arguments between parents should always happen only not in front of the children. In other words you need to simply be vigilant to always be extremely NICE to your child! Walk around making all efforts to make your child’s day as pleasant as possible by performing endless acts of kindness towards him or her. Never fear that you will spoil your child this way. Children act spoiled only precisely when they are being mistreated and are unhappy! Being careful about this will go light years towards reducing tantrums.
Another way to create happiness is to help children to validate accept and gain awareness of all their stormy emotions.
A child may not be able to do whatever he wants but he needs to be able to feel anything he needs to feel! This means you must verbally reflect back to the child any emotional states he or she may be experiencing, “Oh you’re feeling frustrated, Ooh, that must be so disappointing, Wow, that makes you happy! Ooh, sounds like you’re feeling angry!” Never forbid a child from feeling or expressing anger. It needs to be accepted, expressed and even celebrated. Repressed anger causes all sorts of behavior problems and emotional disorders.
Boredom can be a major suffering for children,
and if untreated can result in tantrums. Therefore you need to plan ahead and make sure your children are constructively engaged as much as possible. I know all this takes a lot of effort, but it will save you so much trouble over the long run!
The Magic of Play Therapy…
In considering how to deal with temper tantrums, it is helpful to remember that Child-Centered Play Therapy the way I do it does wonders for raising a child’s happiness level and reducing tantrums, as I have written about in my blog. One session of Play Therapy can do more for your child than a whole day in an amusement park! But it is much more than simply providing fun for the child. Here’s how it works: The child comes into my playroom and I don’t tell him what to do at all. All the toys are laid out before him and he makes all of his own decisions of exactly what to play and when. He has complete control over the action and I follow him, validating, respecting and even celebrating all his decisions taken, accomplishments earned, and feelings expressed. This gives him such an exhilarating sense of control over his own life, and that great and positive feeling is carried with him throughout the rest of the week. I show so much respect and honor for the child’s process of self-creation and discovery, that the child learns to accept honor and respect himself, thinking, “Joseph thinks the things I do are important, therefore I must be important!” All this greatly raises his self-esteem and self-confidence, giving him a sense of mastery and empowerment. In addition, I meticulously reflect back any emotions he experiences in the playroom, giving him the priceless gift of conscious awareness of his own emotional life. I create a very powerful, interpersonal bond with the child, through which endless acts of kindness flow from me to him or her. I have seen phenomenal results with Play Therapy! It is my greatest joy to help a child.
Concurrently with Play Therapy I do Parenting Counseling.
I don’t so much tell parents what to do, instead I help parents to develop their own personal brand of wisdom to resolve their child’s issues. I have decades of experience of working with children and I therefore can help parents realize which tricks need to be applied to each unique situation. I display unconditional support towards the parents I work with, and I have great respect and reverence for the heroic efforts most of them are making in raising their children.
The great thing is that improvement comes relatively quickly, most clients experience significant improvement with just 3-5 months of Play Therapy together with Parenting Counseling.
Feel free to peruse the rest of my interesting blog, or download one of my informative free reports at the bottom of this page, and get on my email list, or view my videos. If you are struggling with how to deal with temper tantrums, and feel the magic of Play Therapy may be right for you, you may chat with me in the chat box, of call me directly at 646-681-1707 for a complementary 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!