Tantrums are part of children’s emotional development, and the way parents deal with them can boost little ones’ self-esteem and prepare them to manage their emotions better.
Carolina Hoyos Barbosa
Psychologist and specialist in child and adolescent mental health
Despite what many think, so-called tantrums are not exclusive to spoilt boys and girls, and neither are they an indication that mom and dad aren’t doing things well. Carolina Hoyos Barbosa, a psychologist specializing in child and adolescent mental health, explains that these episodes of crying, yelling and frustration are natural in children and form part of their social and emotional development. “Little by little, they gradually construct their identity and affirm their individuality and decisions, by disagreeing with things or using this behavior to demonstrate needs that may not have been detected by their parents”.
These outbursts generally take place from the age of 18 months and can last until children are four or five. In most cases, they occur because parents don’t understand what their children are expressing and therefore don’t manage to respond adequately to their needs, for example if they are tired, frustrated or feel some kind of discomfort. “Children at this stage don’t know how to express how they feel through language and are unable to relieve their discomfort and put it into words, so they look to externalize it through their emotions”. However, not all little ones go through this phase, and Hoyos adds that every child is unique and has different characteristics; in this case, these are children who are calmer or have parents who actually managed to get used to and understand their emotional needs.
Labeling tantrums negatively and dealing with them in the same way could have a detrimental effect in the long term, so understanding them is an opportunity for children to feel listened to and strengthen their bond with their parents, as they are the ones responsible for regulating children’s emotions in their early years. For this reason, if parents respond with the same attitude and raise their voice or use strong words to calm them down, small children will understand that force and verbal aggression can achieve or obtain things, leading to feelings of incomprehension and affecting their self-esteem.
Responding in a domineering way or arousing fear is never the solution. There are even parents who complicate the situation with their irritability and anger, and create new problems instead of generating solutions. If the issue becomes repetitive it tends to stay with the children, and over time can come to affect their mental health, and their relationship with themselves and with their parents.
Attentive, generous parents
Hoyos explains that at this point the principle of generosity is essential. “If moms and dads try to understand what lies behind these emotional outbursts, and to adopt a positive attitude towards what children might be feeling, this generous outlook will enable them to provide a more appropriate response in tune with their needs”.
Children learn to regulate their emotions through the example shown by their parents, who are the little ones’ first translators of life. “Hurt, misunderstood children can see the world through a different lens, and that’s why raising them with kindness and empathy will help them to live in society in a more positive way, to gain more understanding of their own emotions and those of others, and to be aware of their environment and the surrounding context”, she states.
This can also be an opportunity to educate them in tolerance and teach them that there are things beyond their control. This will be an indispensable skill when they reach adulthood, and it’s best to strengthen it from early infancy.
Hoyos concludes that it’s vital for parents to understand that their sons and daughters are children, and that their development is not yet complete. “The prefrontal lobe, which is responsible for controlling emotions, does not develop until adolescence; there are parents that fail to understand this and have parental expectations that are unrealistic for the child’s age”. Let so-called tantrums be an opportunity to be understanding, to create stronger bonds and to raise patient, empathetic and generous children. •
Good communication Between parents and children from early infancy strengthens children’s ability to respond to and solve problems.
After a tantrum
- Children will feel tired and vulnerable, and this is a chance to approach them, give them a hug and demonstrate your unconditional support.
- You shouldn’t punish or justify these emotions with words of comfort. Instead, it’s good for parents to explain to their children that there are no good or bad emotions, and that they all exist within each person and serve a purpose.
- Look after the physical and mental health of children; in younger children; crying and frustration are signs that we should seek to interpret.
Placing importance on emotions during infancy lays the ground for good mental health in adulthood.
- Pay attention to children’s diets and their sleep, rest and recreation times, as these are directly related to emotions.