Posted by: Admin | May 12, 2011

Dear LC – Part 2 – My breastfeeding two-year-old throws tantrums. My family and friends say it is because she is still breastfed. Is that true?

Some people have asked me what the link was between breastfeeding and last Thursday’s post on frustration tantrums. As mentioned in that post, answering your baby’s needs is important and might help him feel more confident in himself and in the world around him. Confident people are usually less frustrated with minor events and occurrences in life. They can deal with frustrations better and get less depressed when a setback happens.

Some children are more inclined to tantrums. Some children have high needs; they may have trouble controlling their feelings and experience poor impulse control. As a result, they have more difficulty with their inner emotional balance, this little thing that helps you get back onto your two feet when something has set you off. These children can lose control of their behavior and then, once they are in a tantrum, they do not have what it takes to control how to end it. As you can see, we are discussing emotional development here, and my previous posts have talked a lot about the importance of answering our babies’ needs and of early stimulation to help them develop their emotional intelligence. Last Tuesday’s post about imprinting shows us why the first hours of our babies’ lives are so very important. The video excerpt by Dr Nils Bergman explains the effect of our care on our children’s behavior as they grow up.

So my point is that breastfeeding will not cause your child to act out and throw tantrums; on the contrary, it will help him to be confident in himself and to trust his parents.

Last week, I mentioned that I might have had experience with manipulative tantrums. These are very different from frustration tantrums, which are directly linked to the immature personality of a child who loses his control in a frustrating situation. A manipulative tantrum usually involves some sort of control from the child. He wants something, he knows your triggers and he uses them to get to what he wants. We should never ignore a frustration tantrum, but we can take other approaches to manipulative tantrums.

My first-born was an expert in manipulative tantrums. He had an eye for trends in toys and in clothes, and he always considered it a priority to have the latest and the trendiest. Can you imagine what it was to go to a mall with him? Sadly for him, he was my first child and it took me a while to realize what was happening; I did not completely understand, as I did not even know what manipulative tantrums were! I say “sadly” because I know I did not help him in the right way. Appearances were important to me and I did not like to be thought of as a “bad” mother, so having a child kick and scream on the floor at the mall made me feel self-conscious and I gave in to him quite a lot. In a way, I really thought I was being good to him: when I saw he wanted something that badly, I thought it was important that he get it. I did eventually regain my composure and did not go to the mall. That was an easy way to avoid that specific situation, but he quickly saw that throwing tantrums worked and so he continued at home. My son’s behavior – him throwing the tantrum and me “answering” it by giving in – established a pattern I still had to deal with eighteen years later.

It is important to realize that the young child does not know that throwing a tantrum is how he will get his way at the beginning; he simply does not control himself. It is when you give in to the tamtrum that you are rewarding and reinforcing the behavior. Only then do these tantrums become manipulative.

With time, I tried different things to address manipulative tantrums. Here are a few of them:

–          Ignore the tantrum

–          Remove the child from the public eye by bringing him to the bathroom, the car, or some other private place. Let him know he will remain there until he calms down

–          Go back home from wherever you are

–          Never make a threat unless you are ready to execute it (if you say you will take him home if he does not stop and he does not stop, take him home)

–          Use the “time-out” method (this works only when your child is old enough to understand)

–          Hold your child, restraining him with your arms. If you are still breastfeeding, this is a good time to do so. Do not think that you are rewarding him by breastfeeding him – you are helping him to calm himself. You should keep him in your arms and let him go only when he is calm and has promised not to repeat the negative behavior.

–          Stay calm and in control. Your child knows your triggers and he will use them. Knowing that in advance might help you to keep your cool.

–          Once the tantrum is over, talk about it with your child and explain to him that you will not give in to that type of behavior.

–          Do not be afraid to get professional help if you feel you and your child need it.

The “holding your child until calm” method works well, but I did not know about it with my first child. I used it with my second son, who used to hit when he wanted toys from other children. I have also used it with my youngest daughter, but she would fight back and I had more trouble restraining her. We must always be careful to avoid hurting our children, even though they can resist us forcefully.

One thing is for certain: manipulative tantrums are not cute and they should not be part of childhood. Also, it is not because a child “really wants” something that he should get it!!! We do not always get want we want in life, and this is a lesson we all need to learn. Children must learn to control their emotional reactions early, allowing them to develop their emotional stability so that they can better deal with problems they will encounter later. People may be highly intelligent yet still have a very poor emotional “intelligence,” which can lead to poor impulse control and aggressive behaviors. In adulthood, it may even escalate to violence, dependencies and even suicide.

When we do not know the impact our actions, we cannot change them. But once we have learned about the negative effect some of our ways can have on our children, I believe we have the duty to change them!




  1. It is very interesting to see that we deal with similar situations in school settings. I have frequently witnessed educators overpowering children rather than empowering them. When a child is in crisis, he is basically losing or has lost control over himself. He does not have the maturity or ability to think through what is happening. Whatever he does or says is done so without reflecting. His acting out is actually a call for help. If not answered readily and properly, no lesson is learned about oneself other than knowing that one can completely lose it. Childhood is a time to learn. Adults, be they teachers, educators or parents, should intervene by first helping the child gain control over himself. Holding and looking at the child straight in the eyes is the first step. The second step is to model controlled behaviour. As our breathing pattern is copied and the tension in the body is dissipated, we can address the issue (the trigger) and act accordingly. The child needs to recognize as young as possible his ability to take control over his emotional state. This will serve him greatly in the future, be it on the soccer field, in a relationship or at work.

    If we start empowering our children right from the start at home and in school, the emotional stability that will come of it is noteworthy. When we have that, we can face anything. It is the basis for resilience.

    Thank you Dany for a thought provoking post.

    Richard A.

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