Dealing With Kids And Tantrums

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 October, 2012, 3:25pm

There are so many negative nicknames these days in Hong Kong - for both parents and children. There are tiger mums, but also helicopter parents, eagle fathers, and monster parents. Youngsters have names such as Kong kids (particularly destructive and horrible) or "children of the three lows" - unable to take care of themselves, immature emotionally, and unable to face adversity. What we need to look at is how parents and children can maintain a more balanced, co-operative and trusting relationship.

Nancy, a working mother with two sons aged eight and one, is particularly stressed by her eldest.

"He always screams and yells at home even when his baby brother is sleeping. He is eight already! He is inconsiderate and will not help care for his brother. He cries whenever I try to teach him, even throwing his toys onto the floor."

So she blames herself for being an ineffective parent, and becomes even stricter with her son. It has become a vicious cycle: her son throws tantrums and she loses her temper, sometimes getting violent.

Nancy is not alone in her situation. Many Hong Kong parents resort to quick fixes to end tantrums. A long-term resolution is required.

Nancy needs to show her son love and care. She needs to find the root of the problems. When a baby cries, it is important to understand why: do they need to be fed or changed? The same applies to an eight-year-old.

Different children have different needs, related to insecurity, unsettled emotions, or other anxieties. Nancy's elder son had his parents' undivided attention before his younger brother was born. Because his parents had less time for him, he felt insecure.

Nancy spent some private time with her elder son and came to understand her son's concerns. The boy regained a sense of security, and learned to be a more caring brother.

Professor Gary Landreth, founder of the Center for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas, has created the "ACT model" for setting limits with children.

  • A - Acknowledge feelings. Acknowledge the feelings behind their children's behaviour. Let children see that you understand why they are reacting that way.
  • C - Communicate the limits. Explain the effects of the child's destructive behaviour: "The neighbours will be disturbed if you scream, and your throat will hurt".
  • T - Target the alternatives. Provide ways for children to vent their anger. "You can hit the pillow, or draw on a piece of paper ..."

Children can be exhausting when they throw tantrums. By tracing the motives behind such behaviour and understanding their needs, parents can build a supportive relationship.

Winki Shum is a social worker with the Hong Kong Family Welfare Society