They go hand with the Terrible Two’s, right? Every Kid has them, right? It is a perfectly normal part of development, right? Right…and Wrong.
The question that I have grappled with for the last 2.5 years is…when is a TANTRUM normal behavior and when is a TANTRUM a SYMPTOM of something MORE?
So as your child is lying on the floor in the middle of the grocery store, kicking and screaming, biting and hitting, foaming at the mouth, practically… should you think anything different than “it is a stage he/she will outgrow”?
My answer 6 years ago: It is just a stage and they will outgrow it, ignore the behavior and it will stop.
My answer since I began this babyfoodstep journey: It depends, it MAY NOT be JUST BEHAVIORAL, there may actually be ALOT of other things going on (medically, nutritionally, neurologically, sensory), and as an aware Parent…it is our jobs to figure out what “IT” is and help our KIDDO avoid “IT” so they can continue to thrive!
In this journey, our daughter has cried ALOT… around 8 months these crying spells looked very “tantrumish” … and then around 15 months we gave her COW’S MILK for the first time and she began to bang her head on ANY HARD surface she could find during these “tantrumish” episodes, and we as parents, began to be even MORE concerned than we already were! Upon removing the COW’s MILK from her diet, the HEAD BANGING CEASED, but the tantrum episodes did not! Coincidence….Not for us.
Around 18 months the erratic behavior and tantrums (over seemingly NOTHING), continued to occur. It is at this time that I called our local EARLY CHILDHOOD INTERVENTION OFFICE (0-3 years old) (per a very dear friend’s encouragement, thanks SF!) for an evaluation. It was one of the most important calls I ever made for my daughter’s health. They have been so supportive and helpful in therapies, trouble shooting and problem solving with us regarding our little girl’s condition , that I cannot imagine how she may be doing without their help in this EARLY INTERVENTION, developmentally.
It was after that evaluation when she qualified for services, that I realized: “EXCESSIVE TANTRUMS” were actually listed on their brochure as a RED FLAG for developmental delays, Click HERE for an extensive list of RED FLAGS (of which if your child has 2-3 of them and is under the age of 3 yr old, I highly recommend calling ECI for a FREE evaluation, you need NO doctor referral and can request this evaluation with a phone call to your local office) (also read “Ellie’s” story Here.)
So now you say, “but my son is 6 and he is still having Tantrums and quite violent” or “My daughter is 12 and the tantrums are unbearable, but I just thought that was pre-teen hormones/behavior”…. and I would say, “DIG DEEPER”. If it is not developmentally appropriate for a 0-3 year old to have excessive/intense tantrums…. it is DEFINITELY not “the norm” for a 4, 5, 6, 7, 8….12, 13 year old to have them (excessively or intensely or often)! We all have bad days, and stomp our feet and pout every once in a while (yes EVEN adults, me included), but when a pattern of TANTRUMS is evident…I would challenge you to look deeper and see what else may be going on to trigger this type of behavior. I think what you find may surprise you!
Now you say, “HOW in the world am I supposed to do that?” and I say…” Ahh, so glad you asked!”
JOURNAL, JOURNAL, JOURNAL….write it all down! Keep a food/behavior/activity/sleep and BM (yes bowels) journal on your kiddo (and yourself if you are up for the challenge!), it does NOT have to be a THESIS or even A NOVEL, just one page per day in a small note book, with B-(breakfast) L- (Lunch) D-(Dinner), when they woke/slept, note activity level (high- soccer practice, low- rainy day, video games), general notes about what their behavior was and how many/how long/how intense the TANTRUMS were, and if they had a BM that day. Also helpful is noting what they were doing just before the tantrum, where they were during the tantrum will also help (see ABC Charting below)
As you start to suspect something may be a trigger for a behavior, say the RED TWIZZLERS (full of artificial coloring) that your child eats after soccer games on Saturday… LOOK back and see if every Saturday evening you had a terrible tantrum when it was time for bed. Maybe you will see no correlation, so maybe next week as you continue to OBSERVE and write things down… you will suspect something else… maybe the obnoxious perfume that Grandma wore when she visited for Sunday dinner…because your child was having such a great week, and then of course starts misbehaving and screaming in front of Grandma (making you look like a bad mom!). Maybe it is not behavior at all…maybe it is the chemicals in your mom’s perfume that are driving your child to want to bang their head on the floor because it triggered a migraine headache which at 3 years old, they cannot communicate, because they HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT IS, all they know is their head hurts REALLY BAD, Bad enough that if they bang it on the floor, maybe it will stop it from hurting. Of course there are MANY, MANY other reasons a child has a tantrum (including: pain, frustration in communicating, vitamin deficiency, stressful situations, tired, hungry) and some tantrums I believe are truly JUST BEHAVIORAL (ie. Brother takes toy away from little sister and little sister starts screaming and falls to ground kicking and hitting, ie. I WANT THE TOY!)
Some answers and triggers are not this clear cut and not this “obvious” to see…but I do believe if you gather a little information (data in the form of a journal) about your child and the behavior, you will be amazed at what might become VERY OBVIOUS to you and by changing IT, you can improve your child’s life, and well-being, not to mention improving your SANITY! 🙂
Some resources for TANTRUM un-TANGLING:
“By 4 years of age, most children have developed both self-control and language skills that will lessen the frequency and intensity of temper tantrums. If a younger child is having more than two to three major temper tantrums per week, if tantrums (at any age) seem excessively severe, last longer than five minutes, involve violence (especially directed at younger siblings or other children) or have pushed you beyond your own self-control, you should discuss the situation with your child’s pediatrician.” (viaMedicinenet)
Lots of great advice on when to worry/what to look for from other moms HERE
Autism and Tantrums: HERE
Autism: Tantrums vs. Meltdowns: HERE
ABC Behavior Charting (and 10 ways to deal with Tantrums): HERE