The volume increases to yelling/ The body begins to flail about. The feet start to stomp. The anger has found an outlet, no matter how inappropriate, and suddenly a calm and reasonable child of 8 is in a full on tantrum expected in a toddler or preschooler.
Why? What does this demonstration of anger, perhaps even rage, really mean? There are two likely options: 1. manipulation that is attempting to get a specific outcome; or 2. a display of true anger that has not had an appropriate outlet.
The first type of tantrum has its roots in discontentment and selfishness. A child seeks a certain toy or privilege, and a loud fit follows the word, “no,” in the hopes that Mom or Dad will surrender and give in to the request. In the case of these tantrums, it is necessary to reinforce the decision and dispel the idea that manipulation will work. A time out of loss of privilege could be the outcome.
The second type of tantrum has its roots in hurt, frustration, and a sense of powerlessness. A child having this type of tantrum is expressing a reaction to deep frustration and demonstrating a lack of coping skills. This is generally not an attempt to get anything but an attempt to let something out.
Any number of stressors can be responsible for this type of tantrum. Perhaps there is an overwhelming amount of schoolwork, the child is being picked on at school, or developmental maturing has brought a deeper understanding of how Mom and Dad being divorced impacts daily life.
This second type of tantrum requires a calm, careful approach. Listen to what is bothering the child. Teach him or her how to address frustration and express anger in more healthy ways. Look for solutions to problems, strategies for expressing anger more appropriately such as exercise or conflict resolution.
Telling the difference means knowing a child is essential. Look at the context, and trust one’s parenting instincts. If a child is blowing a total fit for a completely illogical reason and nothing can be gained, then it is probably time to look at coping skills. And don’t be afraid to seek professional guidance in this. Most adults do not know how to handle anger in a healthy way, so it is no surprise that an 8 year old lacks skills. This is a great opportunity to enrich a child’s life with anger management strategies so anger no longer gets stuck and comes out in a raging tantrum.