The experience of parenting is one of life's richest and most fulfilling roles. But it is also a lifelong demand and responsibility that carries huge emotional, financial, energetic, and mental challenges. As is often said, there are no 'rule books'. We often learn to parent by trial and error, and gain insight and support from a variety of sources including friends, family, books, and community resources.
The early stages of parenthood – especially for first-time moms and dads – change everything about our lives, and drain us as we work around the clock to care for a newborn, then infant, then toddler, and onward. As children enter the school years and become more independent, we regain some freedoms, but new needs emerge as well.
Parenting is more and more complex as our world becomes more technologically advanced. We also see incredible demands on children from school as well as competition between peers for achievement and academic, social, and athletic standing.
Relationships with children are ever-changing. The adoring infant morphs into the petulant toddler who pushes us away. The school age child needs our love and support, yet wants to have his or her own life. And teenagers...well, some find that stage of childhood and parenthood to be the single greatest trial of the relationship. Hormones, physical changes, rapidly changing brain development, tremendous peer pressure, and the college or work world decision are overwhelming factors for the teen as well as for the loving parent who wants the best for his or her child.
Tantrums can be compared to a pot boiling over on the stove. Prepare ahead to avoid a "boil-over".
Recognize the tendency to boil over
Some children are very sensitive or intense in their reactions and can get overwhelmed by lots of stimulation. Fatigue, bright lights, too much noise, being too hot or cold, and too many people or activities can induce a tantrum.
Other children are strong-willed and active. They have difficulty waiting. Whether it is a personality trait or a childhood state, it is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it is understood and handled properly.
Sometimes the environment encourages tantrums. A child that feels over controlled or hears "no" too many times can become frustrated. Also, a child may be copying how others around him react to stress. They learn to "explode" because others do.
Turn down the heat
For the sensitive child, observe your child over time and check-in with others with whom your child spends time with. Are there themes in what sets off these difficulties? Anticipating potential challenging situations can help you and your child be prepared to manage better. Allow your child to ease into environments that may be overstimulating. When you can, focus on calming the environment: reduce light, noise or activity. Help the child self-soothe with a favorite item or activity. When going out, bring crackers and a cool drink and make sure your child is not tired. Look for signs of fatigue or stress during trips and have a stroller or comfort item handy to avoid a whining meltdown. Take breaks; allow your child to rest, if necessary. Being proactive will forestall unwanted behavior.
For the strong-willed child, explain ahead of time what will be expected and remind him again if you see a tantrum brewing. It helps to watch for patterns in what sets off tantrums. Certain places, situations, and even the time of day might make a difference and being prepared can make all the difference for you both. Be ready to leave an event or store if a tantrum erupts. The tantrum is likely your child's way of letting you know they can't handle the situation properly and need to be elsewhere to calm down again. For the child who is older and can reason, it can also remind them that behavior that is inappropriate to the setting will result in a withdrawal of social activities. Don't give into a tantrum by buying or allowing something in response to the screaming. Help the child learn that only when he calms down and speaks appropriately, can he receive what was requested. Many children, especially younger ones or children with certain disabilities, are often unable to calm down on their own and need a caring adult to help them. Other children just need space. Remove her from the "scene of the action", make sure she is safe, and help her to regulate her emotions. Reasoning with an enraged child can be futile. Your tone and facial expressions get through much more effectively.
Give the active child a job to do – make a game out of car rides or shopping. Give him items or logos to find, or draw. Allow him to hold items or place them in the cart or at the checkout. Keep him busy!
Humor can lighten the mood for both of you and children love silliness. The strong-willed child can especially try a parent's patience, so don't take everything your child says or does to heart. Turn the angry moment into laughter.
To reduce your "no's", allow your child age-appropriate choices. Child proof your home so he is able to explore safely. If you pick your battles wisely, many restrictions you thought were important may not be so crucial.
Watch your own stress reactions and work to calm yourself when you want to have a tantrum! Leave the room, splash cold water on your face, listen to relaxing music. Calming self-talk, slow deep breathing, getting more information, or talking with someone can all help reduce your own stress.
Use a potholder
Sometimes we cannot handle situations totally alone. We wouldn't take a boiling pot off the stove without a potholder! Seek help if you feel you are in an environment that is teaching your child to explode to stress. EAP counselors can help with this very common issue for parents. Resources can be found in the Child Development or Parenting sections of bookstores or libraries. Obtaining practical information and reassuring guidance can help you stay cool when temperatures rise.
In this style, parents expect children to follow the strict rules established by the parents. Failure to follow such rules usually results in some type of punishment. Authoritarian parents fail to explain the reasoning behind these rules. If asked to explain, the parent might simply reply, "Because I am the parent." Baumrind describes these parents as "obedience and status-oriented", and "expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation"
Similar to authoritarian parents, parents with an authoritative parenting style set rules and guidelines that they expect their children to follow. However, these parents are considerably more democratic in their approach. Authoritative parents are responsive to their children and willing to listen to questions. When children don't to meet expectations, these parents are more understanding rather than punishing. Baumrind suggests that these parents "monitor and impart clear standards for their children's conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative".
Permissive parents, also referred to as indulgent parents, place almost no demands on their children. These parents rarely discipline their children because they have relatively low expectations of maturity and self-control. According to Baumrind, permissive parents "are more responsive than they are demanding. They are nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation". Permissive parents are generally nurturing and communicative with their children, often taking on the status of a friend more than that of a parent.
An uninvolved parenting style is comprised of few demands, little responsiveness to children and minimal communication. While these parents may fulfill the child's basic needs, they are relatively detached from their child's life. In extreme cases, these parents may even reject or neglect the needs of their children.
THE IMPACT OF PARENTING STYLES
Numerous studies have demonstrated the effect of various types of parenting styles on children's development.
Authoritarian parenting styles generally lead to children who are obedient and proficient, but who have considerable problems with happiness, social competence and self-esteem.
Authoritative parenting styles generally lead to children who are happy, capable and successful (Maccoby, 1992).
Permissive parenting often results in children who are somewhat unhappy and who struggle with self-regulation. These children are more likely to experience problems with authority and tend to perform poorly in school.
Uninvolved parenting leads to children who tend to lack self-control, have low self-esteem and are less competent than their peers.
Successfully launching your child from teen to adult can be a huge challenge. Your chances are better if you build a solid platform from which they can take that leap. There are four essential pillars on which to build this platform.
First, prioritize your relationship with them. Perhaps more than anything else your teen(s) need to know you care. Praise them for doing well. Listen to them when they talk. Take time to be interested in what they are interested in. Enjoy their growing personalities and individualities. Make sure they know you value them as a person.
Second, provide a structure, set limits on their behavior, and enforce the limits with consequences. The key is being reasonable. Have reasonable rules and be ready to adjust them according to the choices your teen seems to be making. Limit your battles to the most important ones and be sure to focus on what you can enforce. Try to keep your emotions from getting in the way of what is best thought of as a business deal. When your teen(s) make a bad choice they pay the price. If they keep making the bad choice the price they pay may have to go up.
Third, find the right level of involvement. The older they get the more your involvement is to monitor not control. You are the safety net to keep them from falling to the point of real damage. They need to learn from their mistakes and to experience the natural consequences of their actions. Teens need to learn to know when they need help and how to ask for help while you are still around to be the safety net. Trust the foundation you have given them over the first dozen or more years. Encourage them to think for themselves and give them opportunities to make their own decisions.
Fourth, be a good role model. Be the kind of person you want them to be. If you want them to respect others then model respectfulness, especially when you interact with them. If you want them to make healthy life choices, model that. Set a good example. Ask yourself, "What lessons are they learning by watching me?"