In the wake of the furore over a Suffolk ice cream trader’s rant over disciplining children, we ask: How do you deal with a tantrum?

How do you deal with a tantrum?

How do you deal with a tantrum? - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

This weekend all eyes were on Felixstowe after a seafront cafe owner made the national headlines over a Facebook rant about unruly children and parents who seem unwilling or unable to control them.

The original post from South Kiosk at Martello Park, Felixstowe, about disciplining children

The original post from South Kiosk at Martello Park, Felixstowe, about disciplining children - Credit: Archant

Kim Christofi, who owns South Kiosk at Martello Park, wrote on Facebook that she would give “five lenient minutes” to parents who are “too scared to discipline their children about tantrum screaming” before intervening herself.

The post, which has since been removed, has sparked a huge debate over how we should deal with children who misbehave, with the common consensus being that parents would be furious if someone else tried to intervene.

Here we look at the issue in greater detail.

Dr Beverley Nightingale, associate professor of early childhood studies at University Campus, Suffol

Dr Beverley Nightingale, associate professor of early childhood studies at University Campus, Suffolk - Credit: Archant

What the experts say

Beverley Nightingale is associate professor for the early childhood studies degree at University Campus Suffolk. She is keen to offer support and reassurance to parents who find themselves embarrassed by their young children’s temper tantrums.

She says: “Tantrums are usually caused by frustration and (wanting) attention. Children often haven’t got the words to say what’s making them cross. They want attention and they want it from the people they love but parents are trying to juggle lots of things.

“Every situation will be different.”

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Dr Nightingale adds that if this happens with “excessive frequency” then the parent should take the child to see a doctor.

“It is common between 18 months to five years – you read about the ‘terrible twos’.

“Also, that’s the sort of age when children are learning about and testing boundaries.”

Children tend to do this with the people they know and love: “Parents get the raw deal,” she says. “The thing is, when it happens in public, most parents feel anxious, embarrassed, uncomfortable. It’s about being very calm – almost detaching themselves from the behaviour and being very calm and unemotional.

“If the child senses you are getting wound up they will accelerate (their behaviour). Parents have to be reasonable (otherwise) they might say things they regret.”

Children in such a state of frustration may need an “emotional cuddle or an explanation”. This means telling them why something can’t happen, says Dr Nightingale.

“They always say the best time to talk it through with the child is when they’re being their normal self. It’s often about sympathising.

“I would pick the child up and cuddle them and make sure they are not hurting themselves. Parents are in the best position to be able to deal with it.”

At the same time, she says, there is no surefire, quick remedy: “You have got to work through it. There is no easy answer.”

“Adults get frustrated but they have the communication skills to say what is causing the frustration.”

What Lynne Mortimer says

There is nothing more deeply embarrassing to a parent than their child having a full-blown tantrum, says Lynne.

The short, sharp shock of a smack is, quite rightly, not an option so the parent, or in my case grandparent, has to have a more meaningful way of dealing with a small child and it isn’t easy.

A child in meltdown will be:

(a) screaming

(b) crying

(c) inconsolable

(d) resistant to reasonable debate

Let’s be honest, most two or three-year-old tots do not see reason. They are aware only that they have been refused an ice-cream or something expensive in the zoo gift shop and they do not understand why they are being treated so cruelly. Even when the adult in charge points out they have already had two ice creams or that £25 is just too much to spend in the gift shop - wouldn’t they settle for a bouncy ball for £1? - they are unlikely to appreciate the logic of the argument.

When my son was tiny he had a tantrum in Bhs in Ipswich and I was totally unable to stop it. He threw himself to the ground and sobbed, loudly. Very loudly. In my stern, disciplinarian, slightly less fearsome than Miss Trunchball (the fierce and bad headmistress in Roald Dahl’s Matilda) voice, I admonished him. “If you don’t stop that noise immediately I will leave you here.” He didn’t so I did.

I stood outside the glass doors so I could see him, fully expecting him to quieten and meekly follow.

What happened instead was that about eight women formed a circle round him. As I re-entered the store, they were asking: “Have you lost your mummy?”

I shuffled my way through them and admitted: “I’m his mummy,” then scooped him up and made a hasty exit.

You need coping mechanisms and back in the early eighties, in the absence of the internet – mumsnet, Facebook etc – good advice was not as readily available.

My son and his wife have a countdown when my older grandson misbehaves (hard to believe, but it occasionally happens). He knows he has to get it back together by a count of five or face the ignominy of the thinking step.

But there are occasions when even the best laid plans come to naught and they simply carry on tantruming... I don’t think that’s a word but maybe it should be. At which point, the best you can hope for is that the storm of emotion passes quickly.

It’s hard and interventions by strangers are usually well meaning but can end in disaster. In the supermarket – a popular tantrum zone because of the extreme boredom of shopping – I always give small kids in the throes of a wobbly my sunniest smile in the hope they will respond. In my extensive though unscientific experience, they tend to stop crying, smile back through their veil of tears and then resume their wailing at increased volume.

What you say

Emily Ayers, 26, Kesgrave: “I see where she is coming from but I don’t know how she will enforce it. Each child and situation will be different, and some parents might just be oblivious to it.

“But I don’t think she has got a right to speak to other people’s children. I think she should try to ask the parents again.”

Shirley Doddman, 54, Ipswich: “I understand what she means. Children are more undisciplined these days. When you go to a restaurant and there’s a child screaming, the parent should take them out but a lot just don’t. I think a lot of it stems from school and at home.

“But I don’t think it is up to someone else to discipline your child. If that happened to my child, I would have a right go. I’d say ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’

“She should go and have a quiet word with the parents instead. If my child was screaming their head off, I’d tell them off myself.”

Stephen Jones, 31, Ipswich: “I was brought up in South Africa where if you don’t get to grips with your own child, then someone else will do it for you. But in this country it is not the done thing.

“But for me, I don’t think I agree with her. It is not her property, so I don’t think she has the right, and I would not appreciate her talking to my child. If she did, I would take her to one side and tell her that she should have spoken to me first.

“I also bring up my child not to have tantrums, and I would discipline him myself if he did without anyone intervening.”