My four-year-old son keeps having tantrums and I’m finding them hard to deal with – especially when he kicks off in public. How can I manage his behaviour so we’re all calmer? Judith, Bur Dubai
It’s every parents’ nightmare. You’ve just filled up the supermarket trolley and you’re making your way towards the checkout, when junior throws a wobbler because you won’t buy him a toy Hummer. And he’s not just snivelling and grumbling, he’s having a full-on bellowing tantrum. We’re talking kicking, hitting, screaming and floor pummelling in front of lots of rubber-necking shoppers. It’s embarrassing and, let’s face it, you’re tempted to fling yourself on the floor and join him. But you are old enough to know better and so is he – right?
Perhaps not, says Dr Rita Kovesdi, a specialist pediatrician at the Health Bay Polyclinic in Umm Suqeim. ‘Tantrums start around the age of two and can continue up until children start school and, although the vast majority of tantrums are for attention-seeking purposes, they’re also caused by frustration.’
She says, ‘Kids can find it very difficult to express themselves. When they’re two, they have a limited vocabulary – half of which, parents misinterpret because kids can’t express themselves clearly, so this does lead to them getting upset.’
For older kids, it’s more likely to be a way to get our attention – and it’s certainly effective.
But as there’s no dictionary to interpret our toddlers’ burblings and big brother is still having total meltdowns in public, where does that leave us? Up stressed parent creek without a paddle?
Not at all, says Dr Rita, although she agrees that if the tantrum is really severe, you shouldn’t feel bad about dumping the full trolley and dragging your squawking brat out of the supermarket. ‘Sometimes there is no option but to remove them from the situation. But there are other things you can try before resorting to this. Don’t take them shopping when they’re tired or hungry, avoid isles that are likely to cause problems like the sweets sections, and ignore tantrums where possible. If you try and talk to them or shout, you’ll only make things worse because you’re giving them what they want – attention.
Equally, she advises, time out is good. Simply (and preferably without the aid of duct tape) make your little darling sit quietly on a chair for a limited period of time as a punishment. ‘The general rule is a minute for every year of their age – so four minutes for a four-year-old and two minutes for a two year-old,’ says Dr Rita.
And what if time out is not possible? ‘Try drawing a mark on their hand when they have the tantrum. Then when you get home, remind them about their behaviour by pointing out the mark and make them do their time out then.’
Dr Rita Kovesdi is a specialist Pediatrician at the Health Bay Polyclinic in Umm Suqeim, 04 348 7140.