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Emotional IssuesTemper Tantrums     << Ch. 11 >>
An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression.
- Proverbs 29:22

Are Temper Tantrums Acceptable?
Some parents, particularly those who have imbibed from the fountains of modern psychology, believe that temper tantrums are acceptable. They believe that it is necessary and good for a child to vent his frustrations, release tension, and express himself in such a manner. They go so far as to believe it is the child�s right to do so. I vigorously disagree.

Children seldom truly outgrow of such willful expressions. The toddler tantrums are merely replaced by adult tantrums such as swearing, yelling, road rage, abusing animals, spousal or child abuse, and sometimes escalating even to vicious assaults and murder. I don�t see how anyone could dare defend the behavior that leads to such evils, yet the �experts" do it every day, and are extolled for it in the bargain. The advice to ignore tantrums is coming from the psychology books. Throw them out.

I see only evil in the uncurbed display of rage, selfishness, and willfulness. Because it is my responsibility to do my best to shape my children�s character into what conforms to the image of God, I must never cease working to help them become loving, self-disciplined, godly human beings. I am obligated to step in and curb temper tantrums and any other kind of wrong behavior. This is why I was given the gift of children. This is why I am a mother.

Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit.
- Proverbs 25:28

The "Frustration" Excuse
Faith: The temper tantrums my fourteen-month-old has usually seem to stem from frustration. Normally they occur when he can�t get a toy to work the way he wants it to, or when he can�t do something he is trying to do. How much can I expect of my fourteen-month-old? Can I really expect him not be become frustrated?

Elizabeth: My experience with young children has caused me to conclude that very few of them truly throw fits because they are "frustrated." Now perhaps frustration plays into the equation somewhere, but when the fit throwing begins, the emotion these children are experiencing and displaying is anger, not frustration. A frustrated child will cry pitifully in helplessness and sadness. An angry child who is hoping to force his will upon the situation will allow his temper to flair out of control and throw an angry fit of rage, instead. That's why they are called TEMPER tantrums - because they involve TEMPER.

Perhaps an incident begins with the child wanting to put a square block in a round hole. It doesn't work. Perhaps he tries a few times and then begins to react. A truly frustrated child will sob in self-pity, or run weeping to Mom for comfort. An angry child will throw a fit hoping to force that block to fit in that hole, or at least to alert everyone to how unfair it is that he can't get that block to do as he wants. This is NOT frustration, but selfish anger. It may have started as frustration, but it quickly and wrongly turned to anger.

I do not allow temper tantrums in my home and so even if my children are frustrated, they do not have them (beyond the first few times they try, anyway). I teach them to ask me for help if they need it, and never to get angry and throw a fit just because they can't do something. Age fourteen months is certainly old enough to teach a child this. In fact, it is about the best age for teaching this. At this age they are old enough to understand and obey, and the bad habit of quickly losing their temper, can be far more easily overcome than in any proceeding year. 

The longer you pacify a child in this area (by comforting, ignoring, or distracting) the worse the situation will become. The longer you let it go on, the harder it will be to stop and the more tantrums you will have to deal with. A tantrum that begins as frustration may not be rebellion against the parent at first, but it will soon become so, when the child is challenged with the word "no" from his parents in some other matter, or when he can't get his way with something more serious. Do not allow frustration to be an excuse for a temper tantrum. 

Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret, {it leads} only to evildoing.
- Proverbs 37:8

Ignoring the Tantrum
Marie: I always ignore my child when he throws a tantrum because ignoring the behavior teaches that it will gain no attention. Don�t you agree with this?

Elizabeth: I agree, that if the child's purpose is to get attention, and you ignore him, he won't be rewarded with the attention he wants, and might eventually stop asking for it in this manner. I'm rather concerned about what he'll start doing instead �but nevermind.

In reality, few toddlers throw tantrums just to get attention. That�s more easily and efficiently obtained in other ways. What motivates and fuels most tantrums is this: the child isn't getting his arbitrary demands gratified and he is angry about it. The tantrum is simply a display of unrestrained anger. It's that elemental. Yes, he wants you to witness his anger, but that's secondary.

When the scoffer is punished, the naive becomes wise; but when the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge.
- Proverbs 21:11

My Experience
My first two children indulged in a tantrum or two when they were small, but I managed to stop them somehow. I'm not sure how I did it, I just did, probably by becoming angry and shouting at them -- never an acceptable option. Fortunately, they did it infrequently and quit before the age of three.

Others parents aren't so fortunate. I had a neighbor whose five-year-old, on a regular basis, exploded in tantrums that amazed me. The mother's solution was to simply walk away and ignore him. Why she would do that, and why she would believe it was a solution when it obviously showed no sign of working even after five long years, I have no idea. But I was never tempted to follow her example.

When my third child reached two, he began throwing tantrums I couldn't stop. None of the childrearing books I�d read had any advice that helped. I really could not ignore him, so one day I handed him off to his father. Dad was equally helpless. He actually blamed me, demanding that I, �Do something!� That got me mad. I took my child and picked him up and yelled at him to "STOP IT RIGHT NOW!" It took him a few seconds, but he did stop. I guess I finally got cross enough to convince him I meant business. Still, I don't recommend that method. Yelling is never the best thing to do.

My husband and I realized that we would need to adopt a whole new parenting methodology when it came to tantrums. Tantrums and yelling are never acceptable. The next time our child dropped to the floor in enraged screaming, I stood him up instantly, and delivered a serious swat on the rear, saying "Stop it." I did not yell this time. I may have had to repeat my command, and I certainly had a stern "don't mess with me" demeanor, but never again did I yell. Surprised by the ambush and the swat, he pulled himself together rapidly. This made me realize that a tantruming child is not as out of control as they�d like us all to believe and that the solution to tantrums is in the timing and the parent�s bearing, not the yelling.

I've had seven additional children and none indulged in temper tantrums. Oh sure, most of them tried it a time or two, but the swift, certain, ambush approach worked with them all.

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.
- Proverbs 16:32

Catch It Early
The essential keys to success in tantrum stopping are timing (catching it before it becomes a full-blown tantrum), and consistency (catching and stopping all tantrums promptly, every time).

My later children never entered the full-blown temper tantrum stage and here's an example demonstrating why. I remember one of my later children - he was one-and-a-half - entering the kitchen crying for a toy. Since it was nothing urgent, and I was occupied, I responded with, "Just a minute". He understood, but intensified the crying to dramatize his displeasure and demand I do something about it immediately.

He looked at me with an "I'm telling you what I want right now and you're not going to tell me to wait" kind of look. To underscore his pique, he dropped abruptly to his rear, and began to crank up the volume. He was swearing at me in toddler language.

I was not about to ignore him. Instead, I chose to nip it in the bud. I took him by the arm, demanding, "Get up", as I raised him to his feet. Then I said, "Stop it. Be quiet", and paused for him to comply. Leading him firmly across the kitchen, I placed him where I could watch and control him better and told him firmly to "wait". Before he could get too bored and let his mind wander back to the tantrum idea, I gave him a direction - "Get your book and bring it here." I wanted to both test him to see if he was still inwardly rebellious or not, and I also want to focus his mind more on obeying than protesting. I gave him the toy he wanted only after he was completely composed and acting suitably.

Because he stopped crying immediately, I did not spank him, or scold him, or anything else. The reason he stopped immediately was because I addressed the issue promptly, and because I had been consistently teaching him for the previous six months to obey me in everything I asked. Since he was in the habit of obeying, he complied when I told him to do something. He had respect for my authority and he knew I meant what I said.

The best way, and sometimes the only way, to stop tantrums, is to catch and correct the child when that ugly, pouting look first appears, prior to a full-fledged tantrum. If you are watching your child, you can easily detect heart signs. Read them accurately, and ambush the child with an immediate correction.

A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.
- Proverbs 17:10

The "Post Spanking" Tantrum

Lydia: The only time my daughter throws a temper tantrum is immediately after a spanking. One swat for some disobedience sets her off into crying, kicking, screaming, and stomping. Should I just say, "Stop," and then spank again if she doesn't stop? How can I expect her to stop when I just spanked her?

Elizabeth: Since you've only given her one swat, it doesn't sound to me as though she is throwing this type of fit because of the actual discomfort of the spanking. Nope, she's just mad. Mad that you dared to say "no" to her and to insist she obey you. She is angry, not in pain. So address her attitude.

If you just spanked her, you should be next to her, so be ready, and prevent her from throwing herself on the floor. Make her stay standing up. Minimize struggling with her, but do prevent her from getting her way or from hurting herself or you. Apply another swat and order her to stand up if she is resisting. Pause. Repeat. Remain calm and determined. Take your time. Outlast her.

It will help to speed things up, if you keep her in some physical position that does not give her the impression that you are giving in to her, and also makes her a little uncomfortable if she resists you. For example, a little boy I know pulled this on his mom the other day in my presence. It began when his mom told him "no". His knees buckled and he started to drop to the floor screaming. Mom and I were right there and we caught him by the arms and would not allow him to make it all the way down to the floor. We told him to stand up, but he refused. He pulled his knees up to his chest and held his feet up off the ground. Well, we just held him there in the uncomfortable suspended-in-mid-air position he had chosen, and kept telling him to stand. He kept screaming, but it wasn�t too long before he became too tired to hold his feet up off the ground any longer. The discomfort motivated him to give in, place his feet on the ground and stand up.

That wasn't the end of the tantrum, but it was the beginning of the end. We persevered, not allowing him to do anything he wanted, and making him choose to do what we wanted instead. We did give him a swat on the bottom now and then to remind him that we were not giving in, and eventually he consented to obey us and stop the screaming, twisting and kicking. The whole ordeal took perhaps ten minutes. After he calmed down, we made him stand facing the corner for about ten minutes or so, before we tested him with a few commands, then let him go, with appropriate Tomato Staking in place.

Try this with your daughter every time she throws a fit. Be ready for her when you have to spank her, knowing that she is likely to protest your correction with a temper tantrum. Catch her instantly; correct her firmly. Safely restrain her if needed, not allowing her to injure herself or others. If a struggle ensues, it often helps to command the child to do something specific that you can enforce. If she indicates that she wants to do one thing, insist she do the opposite. Do not give in to anything, however minor � she is trying to distract you and get around you.

Remember that you have all day. Remember that your purpose as a mother is to train her in godliness. Be determined and confident. Not rushed, or timid, or worried that it won't work. OUTLAST her. 

An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression.
- Proverbs 29:22

Tip-Toeing around Tantrums

Donna: My two-year-old son has always been soooo strong willed. I am very consistent, as is my husband, and although we made some mistakes when he was younger due to lack of experience, we have been really on track since he was a year old. Although he is usually pretty good, I still so dread almost every day because of his temper. When he doesn't get his way he screams and sometimes even kicks. He makes things a battle all the time, even though I always outlast, I always make him change his attitude (not just the behavior), and I always win. When we are finished he is contrite, and happily does what I asked him to do in the first place. These battles last anywhere from five minutes to forty-five minutes, but I stick to it and stay calm. This can happen five times a day on a bad day. I am so tired of it! I dread seeing �The Look� that come across his face just before he blows up. What am I doing wrong? 

Elizabeth: Hmmm. It sounds like you are doing everything right, but since he is continuing to throw fits, there must be something we are missing here. One question I have is whether or not you give him direct commands on a regular basis all throughout the day. Does he usually respond well to direct commands? Or does he frequently resist them? If he has a tendency to resist direct commands I would really push that issue with him. I'd give him plenty, and be prepared for a possible battle each time. I'd meet any resistance by pushing him into the confrontation he is asking for, and being certain I won. I'd do this as often as he resists any request. Never cajole him into obeying. Could that be what is happening? Obviously he is still not convinced that you are his rightful authority. He still feels he can control you at least some of the time. The temper tantrums are his way of letting you know that he is in charge. When it strikes his fancy, he blows up with a tantrum, and although you eventually subdue him, he apparently still has the hope and expectation of ruling over you the next time around.

Donna: In general, he is well behaved. The tantrums only happen when I give him a direct command and it isn't what he wants to do. But you know, there might be times where we do cajole him into obeying for fear of that out and out battle we know might come if we cross him. When the battle is evident, I NEVER let him win, but I wonder if I avoid a battle before it starts sometimes. Thanks so much for your help - you are a blessing to me! I will definitely make the command thing an issue and attempt to give him commands when he is entering the "anger zone" tomorrow.

Elizabeth: I think many parents of young children prone to throwing temper tantrums soon begin dreading the upcoming confrontations so much, that they start tip-toeing around their children using counting, distraction, appeasement, or similar, any time a touchy subject comes up. They hope and pray things won't turn into a tantrum. That's a big mistake. It is far better to use your authority when your child first begins to think about resisting you - before he has fully made up his mind to throw a fit. Watch for that little hesitation. Watch for that little show of resistance. Watch for "The Look", as you called it, that indicates he is thinking about rebelling. When you see that or any of these other little signs, challenge him then, when he is still a bit uncertain. Bring the rebellion out into the open with a direct command, and correct it by insisting he obey you.

If close supervision and correcting for the little things pushes a child into a confrontation with you, it is a clear sign that he needed a good confrontation to clear up the issue of who is the head between you. Go on and have that confrontation and win. If you do it well, and do it every time he needs it, only a few days should pass before you see a big change in his attitude of respect for you and consequently how well he obeys and behaves in general.

Donna: It's been several days and I wanted to update you, and give encouragement to others who might be experiencing the same thing. Although I have been called the "Queen of Consistency" by family members, I now realize that I often give my son a couple chances to obey me, just because I don't want to go to the tantrum level. I have been avoiding confrontation - not all the time - but I have been inconsistent with making him obey me the first time, every time. This is hard to admit, but this has been my fault. I feel horrible for allowing this rebellious spirit to grow in him. I didn't realize I was doing this, but I am so glad I realize it now.

So after thinking about this, I have been doing ultra retraining with him and things are going much better. In the past, he was having tantrums five or six times a day that lasted from thirty to forty minutes each. Now, over the past three days, he has had only two, and they've lasted under ten minutes each time. He is so pleasant most of the time now, and he seems to be able to stop his tantrums before they really start. Thank you for your advice and encouragement! This Godly instruction has surely saved my son and our whole family from a lot of pain in the future, and is giving us joy in the meantime with a much happier two-year-old. I am staying on top of him, and it is still early, but I am seeing results already.

Followup from Donna: It's been a year, and I�m thrilled at what a sweet three-year-old my little boy is now! He is a changed little man! Praise the Lord! It is amazing how consistent discipline can truly change the heart of a child! He smiles and obeys happily and respectfully. He is a wonderful example of an obedient child (and his mommy is a beautiful example of a godly mother training her children for the Lord!). Come on everyone! Raise those standards and expectations for your children. Tantrums and bad tempers are not acceptable. You CAN do this!

Do not associate with a man {given} to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, Lest you learn his ways, and find a snare for yourself.
- Proverbs 22:24-25

(c) Copyright 2007 L. Elizabeth Krueger.  All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.