All children cry, not because they actually like it, but because it’s their most powerful way to express their emotions. As parents, we hear a lot of let them finish their tantrum and talk to them when they’re done or Haram! Give them what they want, among loads of other unsolicited advice that usually leaves us confused.
The child’s brain is underdeveloped, and thus we should never expect a reaction similar to an adult with a fully-developed brain. We shouldn’t expect our level of understanding and rationality. Their brain is still a work in progress.
Is it really healthy to ignore our children when they cry and throw a tantrum or will it negatively affect them?
Certified Positive Discipline Educator, Rana Hany, explains that it depends on the child’s age bearing in mind that it’s important that we distinguish between ignoring the child’s behavior and ignoring the child themselves.
Toddlers (2-3 years old):
- During a tantrum, we ignore the child’s behavior (the act of crying/throwing a tantrum), but we never ignore them.
- Never leave them and tell them that you’ll be back when they’re done.
- It’s the parent’s responsibility to safe-proof the space where the child’s at, so as to not harm themselves in any way, because children’s physical responses can be quite unexpected during tantrums.
- Try to calm the child down while expressing kindness by sitting at their level, gently hugging them, holding their hand, patting on their back, and/or playing with their hair. Some children resist at first, but this can slowly calm them down.
- Provide distractions, not conditions. Distract the child through changing the subject or offering to play, however, don’t bargain (ex: Calm down and I’ll give you candy, or if you stop crying, I’ll let you watch YouTube).
Preschoolers (4+ years old):
- The golden rule here is that we don’t ignore. We attend to the child, tell them that we can’t listen to them while they’re crying, and gently hug them.
- Offer the child alternatives.
- Encourage them to express their feelings. You could use something such as the Wheel of Anger Management, which indicates choices of actions to be done when the child’s overwhelmed with anger (Could be found in bookshops or DIY).
- Recognize and respect their feelings by saying things such as “I understand how you feel” or “That must feel awful”, and avoid lecturing them during the tantrum and saying things such as “You need to calm down right away”.
- Opt for “positive timeout” which is a corner/place that the parent and the child put together at a time when the child is calm so that when the child experiences a breakdown, they can calm themselves down. It can be considered as a comfort space; however, make sure not to make it feel like a reward for their behavior. It should contain things that soothe the child, not entertain them. The point of this is to make them recognize their feelings and be aware that they are not judged for feeling sad or angry, and that all feelings are legitimate, and to train them to express and deal with these feelings in the right way.
One last important note, what you should really ignore here is what other people might think of you or how they judge your parenting style. Ignore the pressure when we’re in public because we tend to panic. Please don’t surrender to that and focus on your child. This is a form of prioritizing your child, and there’s nothing wrong with it.
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