Why do young children have tantrums
A tantrum from the child's point of view
"Noooooo, I don't want to put on shoes !!!" If the child gets into the dreaded defiant phase, parents need strong nerves. Because from now on the child develops the desire for more independence. It understands what it means to have your own will and to enforce it. Suddenly, a simple visit to the supermarket becomes an ordeal for the parents: "Can we make it today without discussion and shouting?" Many have already experienced an emotional power struggle between parents and children right in front of the candy shelf. The child yells because they want the chocolate, the father sweats because he knows that everyone around is staring at him.
"Don't worry, most parents feel that way at some point," says Vivien Kain. She is an individual psychologist and a certified expert in infant, child and adolescent psychotherapy. "The striving for autonomy in small children is an important development phase and the completion of this is a milestone in personal development."
Why is the defiance phase important?
In most children, the defiance phase becomes noticeable for the first time at the age of two. The possibilities for and the desire for more independence of the child increase, and it is thus allowed to learn its own skills. The children develop a self-awareness and experience their own will.
"Appropriate handling of emotions is a key skill that children and young people need to acquire in the course of their development," says Kain. "In this way, people learn to bring their own goals in line with social requirements. This is known as emotion regulation. The autonomy phase offers an important development framework for this."
The phase of striving for autonomy can last until the age of six. In many children, however, this clear resistance calms down again around the age of four. In elementary school age, the conscious handling of anger and frustration is usually so pronounced that tantrums no longer occur very often. How long the autonomy phase actually lasts depends, according to the expert, to a large extent on the emotional responses and how the adults / caregivers deal with this phase.
How do parents deal with the defiant child?
Arguing, constant saying no, felt little willingness to cooperate, refusal, withdrawal, screaming, kicking, insulting, sobbing, hitting, biting, being angry until unconscious. In spite of this, each child is individually strongly pronounced or visible. "The intensity and extent of the child's feelings also depends on how loudly or clearly they have to communicate their feelings in order to be seen and heard in their subjective perception," says Kain. The feedback from the caregiver is therefore essential: "In order to defuse the situation, the child must clearly recognize that it is being perceived." In addition, it is important for caregivers to remain calm, not to get involved in a power struggle and to set limits.
A change of perspective: Cain calls on parents and caregivers in their practice to observe and question themselves in conflict situations: "Our children are, as is well known, our mirror. The role model effect should not be underestimated."
Defiant on the outside but fearful on the inside
The defiant phase and the accompanying tantrums are not only an ordeal for the parents. If toddlers slowly begin to detach themselves from their parents emotionally and become more autonomous, this can trigger ambivalent and often overwhelming feelings, according to Kain: "On the one hand, it feels great for the children not to need mum and dad for everything, them are now their own boss more and more often, becoming self-employed. On the other hand, they are still very needy and dependent. " The psychotherapist knows from experience that this conflict can often be overwhelming - for both the children and the parents. "In this phase, children need our attention, our affection, our benevolence and support." Cain describes this in a specific situation:
Three-year-old Max doesn't want to leave the house. He sits stubbornly on the floor. Every time his mother asks him to put on his shoes, he yells out loud, "No." At first glance, the mother only sees the stubborn toddler who wants to get his way. In truth, every no that Max yells out triggers a lot of uncertainty in him. On the way to a more lived will, the small child is secretly afraid of losing the parents' affection or being abandoned by the parents if there is too much resistance. With his defiance he enters a threatening situation that, according to Cain, can only be defused by the caregiver.
It is therefore important for the child to be taken seriously: "The more it gets the feeling that its wish is being ignored or perhaps even punished, the more it loses itself in the resistance and rebellion of these limits."
A tantrum from the point of view of two-year-old Lisa:
"Today we have toast, I love toast. Mom says I'll get mine first. She puts the toast on my plate and hands me the ketchup." Would you like to put the ketchup on the plate yourself? "She asks me. I want! I can do it very well. But what does mom do now? She takes the knife ... "No," I scream. She cuts my toast in half. "No!" I wanted to do that. I can do it, yes Yes. Why doesn't she let me do that? I'm angry. She cut the toast wrong. I'm not a little baby anymore - I wanted to do that. "What is Lisa?", Mom asks me. "Toast, toast" I scream. "There it is," says mom. She doesn't understand me. I don't want the toast anymore. I was so looking forward to my toast. I'm sad because my toast is broken now. "Please Lisa "Eat the toast now," says mom in her angry voice. I know this voice. But I don't want to! I want a new toast. I throw the toast out f the ground and cry. "
Vivien Kain describes two ways in which one can react to the tantrum below:
Not correct: Mom is mad at Lisa, who threw the toast and the ketchup on the floor! While she concentrates on mopping up the dirt on the floor (not staying in relationship with Lisa), she scolds from the floor (no eye contact, no body contact) at Lisa, who is still crying in her seat. Mama explains to Lisa that she couldn't help her and that now there is only this toast. "If she wouldn't eat it, she would go to bed hungry (that would be the punishment), there won't be anything again until tomorrow." Why do you always have to act like that, Lisa? "Mom asks." I have you now put the ketchup on your plate yourself, even though you've made a huge mess. It is never enough for you! The next time you mustn't put the ketchup on your plate, you can see what's going on. "(Mama takes away from Lisa a competence that she already had and was able to do.) Lisa is now screaming even more and louder, because she doesn't understand why mom is so mad at her and why she punishes her like this. Lisa is sad, grumpy and discouraged. She refuses to continue eating the cut toast. "Mom doesn't understand me," she thinks.
Vivien Kain: "The mother is overwhelmed and demonstrates her power over the daughter by punishing her. The daughter is thus in a further resistance, she also experiences discouragement."
Correct: Mama sits down next to Lisa (stays in relationship), takes her hand (body contact), looks at her (eye contact) and repeats the feeling that Lisa leaves with her in short sentences: "Now Mama has done something wrong . You wanted it differently. Now you have to be angry with Mama. " The mother does not yet offer a direct solution because she has not yet understood what her daughter actually wanted, but only gives her the feeling that she can withstand her emotions such as anger, anger, sadness and feeling small. It takes Lisa to calm down. Mama is also annoyed about Lisa's reaction and tells her her own feeling in short sentences: "I am annoyed that you threw the toast on the floor! Please do not throw food!" She offers Lisa the opportunity to live and feel her own feelings in a suitable setting, thus helping her to learn healthy emotion regulation. In this way, the daughter can authentically perceive her mother and experience that the mother does not withdraw from the relationship or leave it. When Lisa has calmed down, Mama picks up the toast from the floor and offers her the same toast again. Perhaps then both of them will manage to understand what Lisa originally wanted, and she would get the knife to cut the toast one more time. Then she can live out the original need to show her mom what a big girl she already is. Should Lisa not be able to convey to her mom what she was annoyed about, she will still have felt understood by her mom in her anger, which is quite often enough and no longer makes a corrected action necessary. Lisa will most likely still eat the toast that has already been cut.
Vivien Kain: "A useful, supportive and autonomy-promoting response from the mother to Lisa's displeasure, in which the mother herself stays within her limits and is allowed to reflect her own emerging feelings."
It is often easier for parents and caregivers to deal with tantrums once they understand what's behind it. For example, children often want to do something on their own, such as cutting the toast in the example above, but then they are slowed down. Cain says: "Even if the child had the ability to do it alone, we as parents sometimes tend to forbid it anyway, because it would be too long, too strenuous, too dirty. This leads to discouragement, and the The answer is often defiance. "
Another situation: the child is deeply playing Lego in his room. Suddenly the father comes in and tells them to get dressed because they have to go to kindergarten. For the child, an unpredictable situation that they could not adequately adjust to in advance. "Just because it is clear to us adults that we leave the house dressed at the same time in the morning doesn't have to be for our toddler (yet)," says Kain.
"You can only choose one candy," says the mother in the supermarket. The child takes the surprise egg. Then turn it over, put it back, and take something else. It cannot decide and is completely overwhelmed with its possibilities. Cain knows why people complain so often in supermarkets: "In addition to the excessive demands described above, there may be a mixture of tiredness and overstimulation. A wonderful breeding ground for tantrums."
Clear rules, yes - scold, no
For children under three years of age, rules are often difficult to understand because they cannot yet empathize with others. However, Cain knows that even very young children feel the emotional attitude of their parents: "They notice when you give them support, orientation and security within lovingly set limits." This is mainly due to the fact that communication is to an elementary part non-verbal through our facial expressions, gestures, posture and our tone of voice.
However, the psychologist regards punishing the child as counterproductive. "Children should be allowed to learn that they have tasks and duties because it advances them themselves, because they themselves benefit from them. If children only do something because of the feared punishment or in the hope of being rewarded, the feeling of being lost in them Ability to act, one's own striving for further development. " A threat such as "If you don't eat the vegetables, we won't go to the park" could mean that a child never feels that vegetables taste good. According to Cain, at some point children would or would not do something just out of fear of punishment - not out of their own will. It is similar with rewards: "At the end of the day it is a bribe to do good. Children naturally want to do good," says Kain. "We can not only live democracy as a political ideal. We can also experience it as a way of life when dealing with our children." From Vivien Kain's point of view, this is the most useful upbringing attitude. "(Nadja Kupsa, March 5, 2020)
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