Even more than saying “I’m here,” contrary behavior, such as foot stomping and tantrums, can be a response to many situations. Young children may react vigorously when corrected, scream with frustration when denied something they want, cry out when angry, or even become defiant when afraid.
Such behaviors point to a number of developmental issues that help shape a child’s temperament and are well worth examining. One is the assertion of power. This is often viewed as defiance or belligerence. In fact, a toddler’s attempts to define herself are the seeds of character, self-reliance, and eventual problem solving. It isn’t easy to stop and recognize a screaming fit as a character building moment. But seen in the larger scope of life, this is part of the reality that is unfolding. It may not seem so, but when a child has screaming fits he may be very frightened by his own outbursts.
While a defiant “no!” represents power on one hand, it brings forth a sense of insecurity and lack of control on the other. So there are two polar opposites found in the same expressions of behavior. These opposites are part of the ongoing struggle to comprehend the effect of actions on the immediate environment. It can actually be reassuring for some children to realize than an adult is in control.
A major pitfall in raising two to four year olds is responding too aggressively or too passively to outbursts. Angry control can be frightening to a young child and even increase the frequency of expressive behavior. No attempt to correct, guide, or corral belligerent behavior leads to repetitive outbursts of demanding energy that may become more and more difficult to redirect.
So what is a parent to do?
I suggest taking a bit of time to think through all the aspects of the situation. Who, after all, is really in charge? How is power that comes from both experience and the desire to express love best used? When is intervention necessary and when is it wise to let an outburst just run its course?
A few simple answers may help. Be sure that your child is safe from physical harm. Don’t try to stop a tantrum. Instead, keep your child close and secure. If there is another child involved, separate them. Afterwards come talk about feelings or what happened may be in order, but make it simple. Don’t threaten, bribe, cajole or waffle.
Be firm, be calm, and don’t be afraid to say no.
Depending on temperament, at about eighteen months children will begin to show a certain amount of self-defining spirit. This is a good thing! Parents and caregivers should help it grow by providing safe, predictable and caring responses. The outcome eventually becomes one of comfortable independence and behavior that is enjoyable to observe.
And that is what all the foot stomping is about!