Anger tantrums in children

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Anger tantrums in children
Anger tantrums in children

Although perfectly normal and very common, our children's temper tantrums disconcert us and often lead to a great feeling of helplessness.


How to react to this outburst of anger and aggression?

Every parent gets a taste of it one day

Sunday afternoon, the grocery store is crowded and here comes Marie-Lou, 3, who wants sweets. This is the dilemma… If I accept, she will quickly get into the habit of begging for treats, if I refuse, it's a guaranteed crisis! What to do? Explain to him? She risks seeing this as an open door to argument and negotiation and runs a strong risk, in any case, of not understanding. Issue a categorical and firm no? But will that be enough to convince her? Not sure… In the end, we refuse half-heartedly and off she goes: she cries, argues, clings when you want to take her away from the display and screams when you raise your voice.

Although a majority of parents experience, one day or another, the embarrassment and shame of seeing their child screaming at the top of their voices in a public place, when it happens to us at we feel like the only parent on the planet who failed to teach his offspring how to manage emotions. We believe that all these heads thatturn to the cries judge us for being such bad parents. Basically, most of them are like, “Poor parent! I remember when it was me. »

Children's tantrums by age

First of all, it is very important to clarify this: tantrums in children (especially between 2 and 4 years old) are completely normal! It should therefore not be alarmed or seen as the manifestation of a major behavioral problem. Although not all children express their negative emotions with such vigor, it is to be expected that a little one, endowed at the base with a strong and extroverted temperament, will express fear, anxiety, disappointment anger and pain in a loud way, whether through tears, shouting or sometimes aggressive gestures.

Anger tantrums usually begin around the age of 18 months to 2 years and end before school starts. They will reach their "apogee" around the age of 3 years with crises that can sometimes last more than an hour, accompanied by various manifestations such as cries, tears, uncontrolled gestures ("bacon" on the ground…), breaking or throwing of objects. Some children will even go as far as making themselves vomit, banging their heads, pulling their hair out, or self-harming. Although impressive, these seizures are "normal" at this age and many children will have them, much to the chagrin of their parents.

Seizures in people over the age of 6, however, are somewhat different. Indeed, unlike the little ones who have fits because they have not yetlearned to manage their frustrations, school-age children now have control over their actions. Thus, even if the anger is uncontrollable, it is the child who chooses the ways to exteriorize it. If he really lost control of himself, he wouldn't be able to coordinate his movements to turn a doorknob or direct his hand to kick. He would scream incoherently and be unable to choose the hurtful words and insults that make his parents react the most… So, at school age, a seizure is not a loss of control but a takeover! It is usually aimed at punishing the parent who is the source of the frustration. The rule of thumb is therefore to ensure that the child has no gain by his behavior and that the crisis is completely unnecessary and only disturbs the child.

Why is my child having seizures?

The causes are multiple, however, in toddlers (2 to 4 years old) they are most often an indication that the child has not yet developed enough control over his emotions or the vocabulary necessary to to express them verbally. So imagine trying to express your anger in a language you don't speak very well…

In older children, excessive anger can be an indication of strong anxiety, a problem of impulsivity or simply a bad habit that the child has not yet overcome, for lack of tools or support. In addition, if seizures bring gains to the child (or have brought them gains in the past) it will beobviously tried to reproduce them. This is the principle of the lottery ticket: "If I have a chance of winning, why not give it a shot…"

A few tips

  • Clarify with the child, through examples and scenarios, what he CAN do when he is angry and what is prohibited. Also show him what he can do to calm down when he's angry (take a deep breath, draw, cry quietly, etc.)
  • The first step is, of course, the recognition of emotions. Make sure the child knows how to recognize anger in himself and in others. To do this, tell him clearly how he feels when you see him overwhelmed by negative emotions: “Ho! Sarah, I think you're mad, huh? Also, teach him to recognize the emotions on the faces of his friends or characters from his favorite shows.
  • Through scenarios, demonstrations with dolls, Barbies or puppets and through concrete examples, teach the child to differentiate between good and bad ways of expressing anger.
  • While watching TV, have him express his thoughts on how the characters express their anger and resolve their conflicts. (“Ho! Kounga pushed Rafie! Is that a good way do you think? No huh… What would you have done?”
  • Through role-playing (“let’s pretend I’m Martin at daycare and I’m taking away the truck you were playing with…”), frequently invite the child to practice good mannersto express anger and resolve conflicts.
  • Show him, physically, by acting him out and then having him act out himself, what is “being calm” and what is “having a tantrum. »
  • Since children do not all learn in the same way, do not teach only verbally: experiment with the child, mime a crisis, live with him a withdrawal so that he plays to calm down, draw pictures of good and bad ways to express anger and post them in his room, etc.
  • In everyday life, apply with him and those around you the right ways to express his anger. Admit your mistakes when they do. Do not justify your actions when you express your frustration inadequately ("I shouted very loudly but I repeated it several times", "Dad hit you so that you understand that you must not…", "I said swear words because I was very angry, the big ones are not the same")
  • Make him regularly experience delays and frustrations. We learn to manage frustrations with practice… Never try to avoid a crisis by giving in to its whims or by explaining and arguing. If the child feels that you are uncomfortable telling him no, he will react more. If he feels that you are afraid of the crisis, he will feel his power and he will do even more. But if you are firm, calm and respectful: "It's a shame, but that's the way it is" he will live it better.
  • Never argue with your child when he or she is whiny, confrontational, or aggressive. Stop the discussion and say you will answer when he is calm. Walk away from him to ignore his whining, stop looking at him, and stop responding. If he's having a fit, take him out.
  • As often as possible, give him choices rather than commands. However, we give choices that suit what we want. For example: "Do you take your bath with your cars or with the boats?" Notice that you are the one who decided when the bath time is. Then let him assume his choices, keeping a firm but respectful attitude. " You are hungry. I think you now regret not having eaten earlier but I can't give you a snack, you chose earlier. "It's cold, that's why you have to put on a coat." Next time you'll know to wear it! » (He will thus learn to choose the best behaviours)
  • When he refuses to obey, do not enter into a power struggle. Leave him the responsibility of the choice of his actions and assume the consequences of his choices. For example: “I think you should put on your coat, because it's cold outside. "Are you sure you don't want to eat anymore?" You know you won't have anything else later. " " IT'S UP TO YOU! " " YOU DECIDE! »
  • Determine a place of retirement, rather pleasant, but without too many toys. At home, this place can be the stairs, an armchair or a secluded room such as the laundry room or their bedroom if the child has no difficulty sleeping. In daycare, I suggest providing acorner in the room, a little remote from the group (ideally out of sight) where you will have installed a small cushion, a few books or material to calm down such as soft balls, sheets and pencils, etc. Some daycare centers have installed this cozy little corner under a table covered with a tablecloth or even in a cupboard under the sink, but closed by a curtain rather than a door. Then present the place in a positive way to the child, not as a place of punishment, but as a place where he can retreat and which will help him calm down.
  • Show him what you expect of him during takedowns, what he can and cannot do, and how he can calm down.

If he has a fit

For the little ones

  • If possible, just ignore the child and switch rooms for the duration of the seizure. Don't mock, scold, argue, or try to console him (unless he's hurt himself!) Completely deprive him of attention and keep a aloof and neutral demeanor. Give him your attention again as soon as he has calmed down and change the subject.
  • However, if the crisis gets too bad, if you feel aggressive and can't take it anymore, or if he behaves violently (hitting, biting, throwing objects) or verbally (yelling, swearing or swearing), remove them to their bedroom or other quiet, safe and secluded place.

4 years and over

  • As for school-age children, they should be removedaway as soon as they cross the "point of no return" and this for the duration of the crisis.
  • Bring him quickly, without abruptness but without heat and talking as little as possible to the place of withdrawal. " Calm down! » The door can be left open if the child respects his space and does not scream.
  • If the seizure occurs while visiting or in public, find a quiet, secluded place or bring the child in the car (even if it means coming back to pay for groceries later)
  • Throughout the crisis, don't talk to her or react to her attempts to provoke her. Stay quiet, firm and distant (not warm or aggressive) During a crisis, the child often tries to make us angry too (so as not to be alone, to take revenge, etc.). We must not therefore give this power to his behavior. It must be reflected to him that the crisis is HIS choice and is totally unnecessary. If necessary, you can say to him from time to time, in a firm and monotonous voice: “Calm down, stop shouting, then I will come to see you. »
  • Stay close to the door, especially if your child has an anxious temperament. If the child stays in his room, leave the door ajar. If he comes out, close it for a few minutes and hold the handle if he tries to get out (about 5 minutes) then open and leave open if he seems to want to follow the instructions. Don't talk to her through the door. If he knocks on the door, ignore him as much as possible. Otherwise, come in and sit him firmly but not aggressively on his bed, saying:“You stay there! and exit. (Do not install devices to lock the door. Feeling locked in can increase anxiety in some and anger in others.)
  • After a few minutes, when the fit seems to lessen, open the door and ask him if he's calmer. If he seems more composed, come in, congratulate him and then check his attitude. If the crisis persists or resumes, leave calmly, saying that you will come back when he has calmed down. Go back there when he stops screaming.
  • Once the child has really calmed down, give a SHORT review of the situation “You're in your room because… I don't want you to…”, clearly state your expectations “For the rest of the evening, I want you to…” and announce the consequence if necessary “For your lack of respect, tonight you go to bed at 7 p.m., understood? ". Demand an apology for his behavior and apologize if you have overstepped the mark yourself.
  • Make sure he accepts your refusal or the rule and that he is ready to obey the instructions that triggered the attack BEFORE he left his room. The withdrawal only ends when the parent senses a real cooperative attitude in the child (as long as he sneers, remains aggressive, arrogant or closed, he stays in his room). We can test his degree of collaboration by giving him a simple instruction (ex: put away things that are on the floor). If he does, it's usually because he's in a better mood. If he starts to oppose again during the return, stop the discussion,leave and come back later. Once the withdrawal is complete, do not return to the situation.
  • When returning, avoid questions like "why did you do that?" ". Children often have difficulty making causal connections and may learn to justify their actions. Instead, say, "I know you're mad at your sister, but you have no right to push her. Tell him in words. » Also avoid dragging yourself on because this dose of attention risks being perceived as a reward by the child.
  • The child can then be forced to take a remedial action towards the wronged person (apologize, draw a picture, do them a favor, lend them a toy, etc.) At this age, they don't is generally not necessary to add other consequences. Move on, change his mind, without giving him any privileges (ex: We won't offer him ice cream right after a big crisis).

Finally, be patient! When you put these means into practice, the crises are likely to increase in duration and intensity. DON'T FALSE! If necessary, remove all objects from the child's room, promising that he will find them as soon as he has learned to better control himself and to calm down. If, after a few weeks of constant application of these techniques, the anger does not decrease or if you do not feel comfortable with these techniques, do not hesitate to consult in order to obtain support. And don't worry, some kids who have done many andterrible crises become angels of sweetness as they age. This is also the case with my own daughter…

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