Tantrums – A Child’s response to Inconsistent Parenting

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Following up on several parenting webinars since the lockdown, this series of blogs are an attempt to support parents by answering some of their most common and yet essential questions. The three questions in this blog are on behavioural challenges that parents cause or maintain without their knowledge.

Behaviour is learnt. Children often observe and model the adults and people in the environment. Being naturally curious, most children will then use what they have observed (subconsciously) and depending on the response they receive the behaviour will either develop or diminish. This takes time to become a habit and very often parents need to become aware of their own behaviours, responses and inconsistencies before trying to correct or discipline their child.

1. My 3.5 old daughter do play with friends, but she pulls things from them (like their cycle, toys) and becomes little aggressive till she gets it from them. How should I help her improve her behaviour.?

Till almost 8 years children are likely to be “egocentric” and this prevents them from taking another’s perspective, they cannot share, and they are not yet adept at following rules. This will be often seen as an inability to share resulting in snatching other’s toys and also clinging to one’s own toys. In addition to this if they have not observed significant adults in their life sharing, taking turns or being empathetic this behaviour is expected. The most important factor to consider will be to check if the adults in her life also resort to aggression (verbally or physically) to achieve what they want or to get ahead in life. Change and consistency go together. Start by reflecting on your own behaviour and if aggression is preferred over communication and sharing. It may not be the most obvious pattern in your behaviour, but children observe and learn through every observation. In very gentle and subtle ways model sharing within the home. This can be sharing a chocolate or roti, sharing chores at home, sharing workload, sharing experiences and so on. As children observe these natural interactions at home in the absence of advice children will begin to model these. Whenever you notice a change in her behaviour to something very appropriate, take time to let her know what you liked about what she did instead of a “good girl” or “Treat.” Exact feedback on behaviour helps develop and maintain it. In addition, if you model unhealthy behaviour make sure that she also observes your apology verbally and also the way you make amends. For example, if you lose your cool and shout at your partner, let her also observe the verbal apology and the communication with your partner to make amends. This makes way for your child to observe how to resolve fights with communication.  When she becomes aggressive with other children in future, as long as safety is maintained, allow the children to sort out the problem. Very often we intervene as adults and do not allow children to find solutions to play cooperatively on their own. Take a step back and give them time. Most children find a way to use what they observe at home to make amends. Remember, change is not a linear process especially when emotions are involved. Even after your daughter learns to play cooperatively, there may be days when an aggressive outburst occurs. It’s at times like this that we need to maintain our calm. Do not be punitive and shame your child. Stay calm, hold her, let her calm down. Once she feels supported let her know that she can make amends without giving her advice.

2. My 3.7 years kid doesn’t listen to us when she is playing, and we try to interact to her. But

when we say we will chocolate she will listen else she will ignore. Is it normal behaviour?

This is a classic “Parenting Fail.” If you have read the previous blog on play, I have mentioned how play is meant to have “complete engagement.” This means that they will not be able to pay attention to you and if you wish to have their attention, sit at their level, make eye-contact and let her know that you would like to speak to her. This kind of interruption must be only if there is a genuine need to take her away from free play. Do not use it for meaningless things because then children will consciously avoid you when you call. For example, you can call her when it is a mealtime. You can sit beside her and let her know that in 5 minutes it will be time for lunch. Show her a clock with a sticker at 12.30 and one at 12.35 and let her now that when the minutes hand reaches 12.35, she can join you for lunch. Also let her know that she can finish her lunch quickly and resume play. This will help her understand your expectations and make changes in the way she is playing to accommodate the new demands on her nervous system. Do not call her to do non-essential work that you can do on your own. Many reasons when children stop responding to parents and avoiding chores is because we try to coerce them into endless tasks without a structure or clear end. If you wish to teach chores, allow for time in her schedule for play and have a time in the schedule for chores. Balance both and have consistent implementation with support and clarity. I am sorry to add that food treats are used in animal training and not for children.

3.Every time we go out, my son insists on buying something. If we do not give in, he cries and throws tantrums and we are forced to give into his requests. How do we teach him that it is not okay to do this?

This is a behaviour that is learnt over time. Your son has had the opportunity to ask for something and based on your responses learnt to alter his reactions to get what he wants. To change this, we start with modelling again. Does your child observe adults at home being impulsive, unplanned or excessive shoppers? For example, does he observe frequent online buying with parcels being received and reactions of excitement when the parcels are received? Does he see the adults visiting stores including for buying groceries without a list and buy off the shelf in an unplanned or excessive fashion? Does he notice adults using shopping as a means of emotional regulation? All these observations impact the behaviours children acquire. Change starts with the adults involved in this process. Make sure that a list is made when you go out shopping and buy only what is on the list. If you miss out one or two things on the list do not shop without it on the list. Come back for it later with another list. Though it sounds impractical, many times it helps us also make amends when we tend to overlook things that may be setting the precedent for unacceptable behaviour. If you must take your child out shopping, give him a list. Prepare it together with logos of the things he must buy. I normally make the list on a piece of paper with wrappers or advertisements of the products that need to be bought. Always, add the price of the product beside the wrapper on the paper and add up the money to be spent. Before you leave home let your son have the list and the money, he must spend with what he must get back in return as change. If you feel he is too young, make sure you give him the exact amount to be spent. This way when he gets to the store he will have something specific to look, focus on an complete. When he reaches the check out counter, let him check and if there are additional items let him know that he has to put them back on the shelf. Be kind, be firm and be consistent. When he asks for the product, let him know how much it costs and that he will have to save up for it and come ack for it when he has sufficient money. He can save money for it from the change he collects after his purchase. The first few times please anticipate the tantrums but remain calm even if he cries. Stay firm and let him know that everyone stuck to their lists and buying something that is not on the list is not allowed. Bring him back without the things he demands by crying or through tantrums. Your calm is the key element in this change. If the tantrums are very high, go shopping without him and if he asks about it, let him know in a gentle voice that shopping can be done only with a list and when he is able to stick to his list, he can also join you. Your tone of voice, and consistency will be essential. In addition, don’t do the “if-then” rule but the “when-then” rule. “If” is from control and “”when” is from responsibility and regulation.                   Sometimes, new behaviours take up to 6 months to be set. To ensure that your methods work, ensure that you model exactly what you wish to see in your child, stay firm and consistent but in kindness and calmness, force, aggression, violence, shaming and advice never work for any child. Never use threats or bribes.

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