You see it all the time – a child kicking and screaming in the grocery store, a toddler throwing his toy in the sandbox or a kindergartener stomping up and down the stairs of his school.
Every child occasionally has a meltdown, regardless of his or her age or natural disposition. While the roots of these tantrums might differ, fits of rage and temper often affect the whole family. The way you respond to the meltdowns can influence their future recurrence and their long-lasting effects on your family. Children throw fits in an attempt to gain control of their environment. If that fit works, they continue to have meltdowns because it is a method by which they can assert power over their parents. Below, I have outlined some ways to deal with “normal” meltdowns.
For children who are preschool age, meltdowns will generally occur in regards to food, clothing and toys. In the supermarket, it’s because they want certain foods, at home, they want to wear certain socks or shirts, and in the park or at friends’ homes, they will want to play with only one toy. The problem comes when you can’t meet those needs. Therefore, if your daughter starts throwing a fit in the supermarket, here are some suggestions to curb that behavior:
- Stick to your guns. If you originally said “no” to buying chocolate chip cookies and then threw them in your cart when your daughter started screaming, you are teaching her that if she screams she gets what she wants. Instead, if you say “no,” stick to it. Expect to feel embarrassed in the supermarket the first few times, but eventually your daughter will learn that screaming gets her nowhere.
- Avoid triggers. If you know that your daughter always has a meltdown when you go through the snack aisle, don’t go through the snack aisle. If you need something from that section, consider going to the supermarket when your daughter is not with you.
- Sleep and food. Children will often lose control if they are tired or hungry. Perhaps, switch the time you take your daughter to the supermarket or be sure to feed her a snack before you leave the house. This can reduce the occurrences of tantrums.
Elementary school children may occasionally throw tantrums when sitting down to do their homework, especially if they are inundated by work or exhausted by lack of sleep. These fits can involve your child slamming textbooks closed or breaking pencils in frustration. On the other hand, your child could simply break down in tears because she feels she will never complete the assignment. Occasional fits involving homework are normal, but if they are occurring on a weekly basis, consider taking the following steps:
- Establish a routine. Set aside a regular time and place where your daughter can do her homework. This will ensure that she feels in control and will give her more confidence when approaching her homework tasks.
- Sleep, sleep, sleep. For preschoolers and elementary school children, sleep in an essential part of the puzzle. Children who are rested are better able to handle obstacles with poise.
- Testing. If you notice a discrepancy between your child’s potential and her performance, consider getting an academic evaluation. There might be something larger, such as a learning disability, at work.
More Than Meltdowns
But, there are many instances in which the meltdowns are not normal. In fact, I have devoted a lot of time to studying and treating Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), an increasingly common disorder today. Children with ODD stand out from other children who are occasionally cranky or argumentative. When a child consistently and frequently acts out, more so than what would be considered normal for his or her age and developmental level, there is often something more going on.