Dealing with temper tantrums in children

A constantly fussing kid who screams, kicks or even hits others or things when they are upset or frustrated can be a nightmare, especially when one doesn’t know what it is they are going through or what’s causing their aggravation.

A constantly fussing kid who screams, kicks or even hits others or things when they are upset or frustrated can be a nightmare, especially when one doesn’t know what it is they are going through or what’s causing their aggravation.

In Julienne Utamuriza’s case, her two-year-old son’s indication of wanting something is with loud cries and squeals. She says her son always reacts that way when he is uncomfortable or doesn’t like a particular thing or actually wants something.


“When my son is hungry or tired he gets so cranky though at times he reacts likes that over something so minor and it’s sometimes stressing,” Utamuriza says.


“When he is that cranky I give him what he wants to soothe him although sometimes, the only thing I can do is distract him, especially if what he wants can harm him. I remember one time he cried all over the place because I had stopped him from playing in the rain. I had to look for his favourite toy to make him forget,” she adds.


Utamuriza’s son’s behaviour can be termed as temper tantrums, a situation that is experienced mostly by children under the age of three and in some cases in children of adolescent age.

Temper tantrums range from whining and crying to screaming and in some cases hitting. Though tantrums are downright frustrating, parents can actually use them as an opportunity to teach their little ones certain skills like that of managing frustration according to professionals.

Dr Wilbur Bushara, a general practitioner at Herna Medical Centre in Kigali, explains that tantrums are expressions young children use to show parents that they are upset or frustrated.

Tantrums are common during the second year of a child because it is the time when they are developing language skills.

He cites instances such as crying, shouting, holding breath and deep crying, among others, as ways certain kids react when experiencing temper tantrums.

Bushara, however, notes that such is a normal part of development during child growth, saying that children usually throw temper tantrums simply because they are still toddlers who can’t speak or clearly bring out words.

“Some of the causes of tantrums include a parent’s failure to give the child attention, taking away what they need, over stimulation and hunger, among others,” he says.

Children sometimes desire freedom and control over their actions and this can lead to a struggle, Bushara says, adding that: “A child may want to do something and when they discover that they can’t do it that’s when trouble sets in and hence a tantrum.”

Dr Rachna Pande, a specialist in internal medicine, concurs with Bushara that temper tantrums in kids and adolescents can be due to many reasons.

“In a small child it may simply be attention seeking or they may be hungry or feeling unwell. In an adolescent or teenager, it is part of growing up due to hormonal changes,” she explains.

She says that when an individual feels they are not a baby anymore it makes them resent well-meaning counselling and interference by parents because they ‘want maximum freedom’. “Children in that stage are so much influenced by peer pressure and want to show off that they are independent and can stand up against elders.”

Dr Pande says there are social causes to tantrums as well.

“With more families getting nuclear and both parents working, a growing child does not have mature people in the house that would listen to them patiently and give them due attention and guidance. In the end they have nobody else to help them vent out their frustration,” she says.

One’s genes and the conduct of parents too can have a part in this situation, Pande says. “Sometimes it is following a parent who is short-tempered and maybe abusive and a child too feels that it is only in this way any demand may be met.”

Pande, however, advises parents to become more of friends to their growing child and spare time for them.

“Discreetly it is important to keep a watch on your child’s activities and the friends they keep. Patiently and lovingly, the child should be told to the difference between polite and impolite behaviour and how it can positively or negatively influence their future life,” she says.

Pande also advises on rewarding children when they do good as this will motivate them to aspire to behave better.

Most importantly, she says, it is essential that the parents exhibit that kind of behaviour which they expect from their child – that is to be polite and calm at all times.

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