What is a Tantrum?


Why is it that parents want to think that their young toddlers would willingly and purposely do things to upset, frustrate and anger them? Does that even make sense?

When I think of a child throwing tantrums, the first thing that comes to my mind is my brother. When he was young, he had a terrible time communicating.  It took several years of speech therapy to help him learn to communicate effectively. Until then, he was stuck trying to get his points across through pointing, grunting and making noises that most people could not understand. After several minutes of not being understood, he would often devolve into fits of rage. He was not defiant, nor was he trying to aggravate or anger anyone else. He was simply frustrated by the fact that no one could understand what he was saying.

I have watched people carrying on conversations with other adults while their children are desperately trying to gain their attention. The children will begin subtly with a tug on the leg and a polite, “Mommy.” When Mom ignores that, the child will try to step between the two adults, and be guided back to the side. The child will then raise his/her voice while tugging harder on the pant leg and continue to be ignored while the mother becomes agitated.  Eventually the child will start crying, and if the mother continues to ignore the child, s/he will devolve into a full fledged fit. All of which could have been avoided if the mother had simply paused her conversation at the first, “Mommy,” to respond to the child.

If people want to teach their children respect, to wait for a pause in the conversation or whatever, fine. Just remember that a toddler cannot comprehend that concept yet. By ignoring the child, a parent simply tells him/her that the parent does not care, nothing more, nothing less. The child learns nothing else from that experience until s/he is able to comprehend whatever lesson the parent wants to teach.

Everyone, not just children, get frustrated. I know I do. I know that I’ve thrown my own versions of “tantrums” because I’ve been frustrated. I spent a lot of money to put myself through college and get a degree, just to find out that even a college degree is worthless in today’s job market. After watching employers opt for kids with nothing but a high school diploma to their name, simply because they are a lot younger than I am makes my want to scream…and I have. I have scared the daylights out of my cats by screaming into a pillow to let out my frustration.

The next time a parent feels the urge to punish their child because of a tantrum, I believe that they should think really hard about the last time they were really frustrated. What happened? Why were they so frustrated? How would they have felt if some one had punished them for being frustrated? Do they think they deserved punishment, either for being frustrated or for whatever had frustrated them in the first place (i.e. burning dinner)?

One of the biggest obstacles for toddles to overcome is communication. Parents can be so attentive to babies and so willing to listen for that first word, but once a child speaks that first word, parents tend to lose interest in what their child is saying. It doesn’t matter if a child is asking for a drink of water, wanting to go to the potty or saying, “I love you,” every word spoken is important, and should be treated that way.


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