Take steps to help curb child’s tantrums

Published 11:32 am Saturday, February 8, 2014

by Abbie Long

Question: My niece is out of control. For example, my sister-in-law and I were out shopping and my niece was running all over the place. When my sister-in-law told her to stop, she kept it up. My sister-in-law never said anything else to her and continued to ignore her. She knew if she tried again my niece would start screaming, crying and throwing a tantrum. Why does my sister-in-law continue to give into the tantrums? I know if she didn’t my niece would act better. What can I do?

Answer: Imagine standing on a stage behind a tightly closed red curtain. You take a deep breath and prepare for the reaction you are about to receive. It could be favorable or not. As the curtain begins to move, the sound of an enthusiastic applause begins to erupt. Once the curtain is no longer obstructing your view and your eyes have had a chance to adjust to the bright lights that have been revealed, you discern a large crowd of clapping hands. All of them, mine included, are giving you a standing ovation for having associated the cause of your niece’s tantrums with your sister-in-law’s behavior and not with an inherent issue within your niece. Before proceeding consider the following.

There are two types of temper tantrums, natural and unnatural. Have you ever wanted to get an item off a shelf that you can’t quite reach and there is no broom handle, ladder, salesperson or box available to assist in your efforts, so you go to the courtesy desk for help, but it is closed for the day? The frustration you feel from not being able to accomplish your desired task is the motivation behind a child’s natural type of temper tantrum. This type of tantrum is most prevalent in children between the ages of one and three when there is an overwhelming amount of things in this big world that their small bodies will not yet allow them to do.

Unlike a natural form of temper tantrum, an unnatural temper tantrum does not result from a child’s inability to accomplish a desired task, but rather from a refusal she receives when trying to have her way. Once a child receives positive results by employing this method, her behavior in question is reinforced and will continue to prevail. This positive reinforcement is often the result of either parental neglect or lack the parental knowledge.

The description you have provided of your niece and her mother’s behaviors contains elements indicative of unnatural tantrums in combination with either parental neglect or lack of parental knowledge. Consider the following to help you determine which of these possible driving factors are behind the wheel of your sister-in-law’s parental journey.

Is your sister-in-law constantly stressed and over-burdened by life and its responsibilities? If so she is more than likely too physically and mentally exhausted to see past her current situation and does not have the energy to consistently enforce behavioral limits and consequences on your niece. At the appropriate time, reach out to your sister-in-law. Show concern for her heavy load; yet stress to her the difficulty you fear your niece will encounter in her future relationships and with figures in authority as a result of short-term difficulties clouding long-term vision.

If you do not believe your sister-in-law’s actions display the characteristics of parental neglect, she more than likely lacks the parental knowledge she needs to deal with your niece’s misbehavior. At the appropriate time, reach out to your sister-in-law. Suggest working with her to develop a behavioral plan for your niece. This pro-active plan should include behaviors that will and will not be ignored, corrected, or punished. Emphasize to her the success and effectiveness of this plan depends on consistent adherence to it from everyone involved.

Although your realm of non-parental responsibility and influence with regard to your niece’s behavior may be limited, your realm of loving-aunt responsibility and influence to her is not. The following are a few tips to help accept this responsibility, to be that positive influence, and to continue the applause you so well deserve. Never give an empty threat; your niece will lose respect for your position of authority. Never let your niece interrupt you; doing so reinforces her already established belief that she is the center of the universe. Never ask your niece what she wants unless prefaced with pre-established choices; the more you ask her the more you are telling her she is in control, not you. Finally, never worry about disappointing your niece or your sister-in-law; you are doing what you think is best for them both.

The final attendee approaches and climbs the steps of the stage, shakes your hand, and recedes back into the darkness. As you prepare to leave, you notice an unrecognizable figure emerging from a distant shadow and walking toward the light. Eventually an outstretched hand and then a familiar face are revealed. They both belong to your niece and both hold something for you: her face a smile, and her hand a rose with a hand-written note reading “Thank you.”

ABBIE LONG is a Franklin native and advice columnist for The Tidewater News. Submit your questions to askabbie@tidewaternews.com