Tantrums, fussing and whining
Tantrum - an uncontrolled display of negative emotion or bad temper
Fussing - excessive and unwarranted crying, complaining, and protesting
Whining - carrying on in mournful, high-pitched, (extremely annoying) voice
If you ask people to list the most frustrating and ongoing discipline problems during the early childhood years, you would find that these three items appear on every parent and care-givers list. Some children start these behaviours at two years old (those notorious terrible twos) and some wait until they are four (the fussy fours.) Some children are champion whiners but rarely fuss or tantrum, and some grand tantrumers rarely whine or fuss. Some children put most of their energy into fussing, and just dabble in whining and tantrums. Yet every child masters their own adaptation of these three behaviors - every parent has to deal with them - no one is exempt!
Controlling their emotions
Most often these behaviors are caused by a child's inability to express or control his emotions. Tiredness, hunger, boredom, frustration and other causes that ignite The Big Three can frequently be avoided or modified. When your child begins a meltdown, try to determine if you can tell what underlying issue is causing the problem. Solve that problem and you'll likely have your sweet child back again.
Mother-speak: "When I get upset at my daughter I find myself telling her "Sorry honey, mummy is really tired right now and that makes me more frustrated." Then I thought, wow, that's the same reason she gets upset, too. I think we just forget that our kids really are humans like we are, with needs, desires, and frustrations that affect their behavior."
Kristi, mother to Arianna, age 3
Handling tantrums, fussing and whining
No matter how diligent you are in recognising trigger causes, your child will still have meltdown moments. Or even meltdown days. The following tips can help you handle those inevitable bumps in the road. Be flexible and practice those solutions that seem to bring the best results.
- Offer choices
You may be able to avoid problems by giving your child more of a say in his life. You can do this by offering choices. Instead of saying, "Get ready for bed right now," which may provoke a tantrum, offer a choice, "What would you like to do first, put on your pyjamas or brush your teeth?" Children who are busy deciding things are often happy.
- Get eye-to-eye
When you make a request from a distance your child will likely ignore you. Noncompliance creates stress, which leads to fussing and tantrums - from both of you. Instead, get down to your child's level, look him in the eye and make clear, concise requests. This will catch his full attention.
- Tell him what you DO want
Instead of focusing on misbehavior and what you don't want him to do, explain exactly what you'd like your child to do or say instead. Give him simple instructions to follow.
- Validate his feelings
Help your child identify and understand her emotions. Give words to her feelings, "You're sad. You want to stay here and play. I know." This doesn't mean you must give in to her request, but letting her know that you understand her problem may be enough to help her calm down.
- Teach the Quiet Bunny
When children get worked up, their physiological symptoms keep them in an agitated state. You can teach your child how to relax and then use this approach when fussing begins.
You can start each morning or end each day with a brief relaxation session. Have your child sit or lie comfortably with eyes closed. Tell a story that he's a quiet bunny. Name body parts (feet, legs, tummy, etc.) and have your child wiggle it, and then relax it.
Once your child is familiar with this process you can call upon it at times when he is agitated. Crouch down to your child's level, put your hands on his shoulders, look him in the eye and say, let's do our Quiet Bunny. And then talk him through the process. Over time, just mentioning it and asking him to close his eyes will bring relaxation.
- Distract and involve
Children can easily be distracted when a new activity is suggested. If your child is whining or fussing try viewing it as an "activity" that your child is engaged in. Since children aren't very good multi-taskers you might be able to end the unpleasant activity with the recommendation of something different to do.
- Invoke his imagination
If a child is upset about something, it can help to vocalise his fantasy of what he wishes would happen: "I bet you wish we could buy every single toy in this store." This can become a fun game.
- Use the preventive approach
Review desired behavior prior to leaving the house, or when entering a public building, or before you begin a playdate. This might prevent the whining or tantrum from even beginning. Put your comments in the positive (tell what you want, not what you don't want) and be specific.
- When it's over, it's over
After an episode of misbehavior is finished you can let it go and move on. Don't feel you must teach a lesson by withholding your approval, love or company. Children bounce right back, and it is okay for you to bounce right back, too.
Reasonfor tantrum, fussing or whining
|Overtiredness||Provide a quiet, relaxing activity (reading, puzzle, movie).
Put a child down for a rest, a nap, or to bed.
Revise the daily nap/bedtime schedule.
Solve night-waking or other sleep disturbances.
|Hunger or thirst||
Give child a nutritious, non-sugary snack. Provide something to drink (milk, low-sugar juice, water).
|Frustration||Help child achieve his goal (assist with the puzzle, pour the milk). Provide supervised practice so child can master the skill. Remove the source of the frustration.
Use distraction (get child involved in something else).
|Fear/anxiety/embarrassment||Hug, hold or cuddle your child.
Remove child from difficult situation.
Help him identify and understand his feelings (explain what's happening).
Teach child ways to cope with his emotions.
|Unhappiness||You said no cookie, stop running, or don't jump. Your child does as told, but is unhappy about it. So? Let him be unhappy. His fussing and whining is his way of expressing his feelings about not being able to do what he wants to do.|
|Inability to communicate||Try to figure out what your child wants.
Teach a non-verbal child basic sign language.
Calmly encourage him to tell you or show you.
Help him by getting him started on what to say, "Please say, Mummy, I need help."
|Resisting change (leaving a place or activity)||Give child a 3 minute warning, then a 1 minute warning. This allows time for your child to make the adjustment from one activity to the next.
Offer a choice (Do you want to walk to the car or run?).
In the future, verbally rehearse child's schedule in advance of the event (tell him what to expect).
|Over stimulation||Move child away from the activity to a quiet place (Perhaps take a bathroom visit or go to the kitchen for a snack).
Get down to your child's level, maintain eye contact and talk in a soothing tone of voice.
Put your child on your lap and your arms around him for a quiet hug.
|Boredom||Provide a toy to play with.
Initiate a word game or I-spy game for distraction.
Tell a story.
Take child outside to play.
Give your child a small task to do. (Can you find the box of macaroni? Can you snap these beans? Will you go get my slippers for me? Can you pick a new toy for the baby?)
|Discomfort||Determine the issue and see if it can be solved:
Shoes too tight? Socks too bumpy? Too hot? Too cold? Uncomfortable car seat?
|Confusion||Decide if you are expecting something different of your child every day in this particular issue.
Create routines for everyday occurrences.
Create and post family rules.
|Neediness||Determine if need is warranted, if so, stop the child's misbehavior and then provide the attention he/she seeks.
If neediness is a sign of another problem, deal with the root issue: Boredom? Divert child to an activity. Shyness? Slowly introduce your child to the new situation. Tiredness? Put him down for a nap or to bed.
|Sickness or pain||Watch your child's behavior for clues to illness:
Undetected ear infection? Teething? Headache? Tummy ache? Undetected allergies or asthma?
"There is no single effort more radical in its potential for saving the world than a transformation of the way we raise our children." --- Marianne Williamson
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