Temper tantrums explained

Boy shouting
Tantrums are a part of everyday life for children and their parents, and it’s not just toddlers who are guilty of losing it from time to time. We look at ways to deal with the drama.
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There’s an advert for a cold remedy where a woman pre-empts her child’s supermarket tantrum by throwing herself to the floor kicking and screaming, which probably strikes a chord with mums and dads everywhere. We’re all familiar with that moment when we’re tempted to walk away from the snotty, screaming bundle of anger who is making their life a hellish drama.

Tantrum triggers

Parenting Coach Sue Atkins says that there are different reasons that children throw tantrums: “Tantrums are generally thrown for one or two reasons. The first one is out of frustration and the second is to manipulate you.”

“Children as young as two know the art of manipulation. These sorts of tantrums can be dealt with by using your body language, words and tone of voice that simply say ‘We’re not doing tantrums today,’” says Sue. “If on the other hand you feel that their tantrums are being born out of frustration, then you need to display empathy, offering them assistance, patience and understanding. Use soothing and comforting language to appease and reduce their frustration. If they’re getting frustrated at not being able to complete a task, then help them out and make it easier for them to manage what they’re trying to achieve.”

When good children go bad

Aromatherapist Janine Woods has helped many mothers who are dealing with the trauma of temper tantrums. “I remember my Latin teacher at school telling us that anger in Latin meant a temporary loss of reasoning, a passing moment of madness,” she says. “Bad temper tantrums create havoc, cause distress and there’s a sense of loss of reasoning. They are a tremendous waste of energy and generally never have a positive outcome.”

It is particularly distressing when children become prone to fits of anger and parents can feel powerless when faced with this transformation in a previously placid child. “I have had mums whose children are constantly bickering, to mums who are petrified of going out in public with their child lest they throw a hissy fit and can’t be controlled,” says Janine.

Dealing with the causes of the drama

Janine advises looking at your child’s diet and ensuring that it is healthy, balanced, and free of potential allergens or foods to which your child may be intolerant. “There are so many children (and adults) who are mildly allergic to the numerous additives and colourings that can still be found in processed foods and sweets. If your child is having  real anger fits for ‘no accountable reason’ keep a track of what they are eating for a couple of days and check nothing is triggering this off,” explains Janine. 

Sugar is also a tantrum trigger. “Avoiding blood sugar swings is key. Keeping a few packs of raisins, a banana or some plain oat biscuits with you will prevent those tired, energy-draining outburst that can occur when a child needs to re-balance their sugar levels,” says Janine. “Too many sweets or too many soft drinks will cause a real rise and then drop in blood sugar.”

Kids’ coach Naomi Richards says, “Every child is different. For my children, I use distraction techniques – I make them laugh, or ask them to leave the room to calm down and then come back when they are ready to explain something to me without screaming and shouting.”