As for tantrums for this age group, Frost says there are three basic causes:
• The emotional meltdown, when a child loses it due to sadness, pain, excitement or fear.
• The situation tantrum, due to hunger, frustration or being unable to do something he or she wants to do.
• The mock tantrum, a manipulation when a parent has given in one too many times.
Frost, 43 and newly engaged, with no children of her own, hails from England but lives in Los Angeles. She has worked with numerous American families over the years. While there are many universals in parenting worldwide, she does see some differences in the approach to discipline among Americans.
Five questions for Jo Frost:
Is there such a thing as an inexplicable tantrum? The kind where you've tried to figure out the cause and there just doesn't seem to be one?
No, I don't believe so. Whether they're hungry, whether they're too hot, too cold, they're always trying to communicate with us. Tantrums are only natural. It's part of child development, but we don't have a good tolerance level for it here in the states.
Does it surprise you that more parents don't understand the causes of tantrums?
Having spent 10 years in this country helping families now in 47 states, American families use the word very flippantly: "My child's having a meltdown, they're having a temper tantrum. I don't know what to do. I don't know why they're having it." It concerns me when parents don't think what possibly may have happened. There's not even a: "Well, it could be this. It might have been that." It's just this general answer: "I don't know. They just flipped out."
Is this generation of parents more permissive?
Are there parents out there that are very permissive? Yes. But this country is very polarizing. I also see a very extreme set of behaviors as well, where there's no room for the child to breathe, where there's no room for the child to have a choice. I don't think it's unique to this generation.
What is your best piece of advice for parents dealing with tantrums?
To identify. Ask why, then we're halfway there. Recognize that it's not uncommon and stop for a moment once you get over that initial feeling of either wanting to control or wanting to run. It's fight or flight. Most parents want to control it and stop it and just act very aggressively, or become very permissive and just try to do anything to make it stop. Those are the two most common mistakes.
Is this generation suffering a crisis in confidence in parenting?