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Managing anger and tantrums

Photo: It's normal for children to get angry sometimes, we all do.

Some of the behaviour that we all deal with from our children can leave us pulling our hair out! But it’s normal for children to get angry sometimes, no matter what their age and whether they’re deaf or not.

It’s helpful for us as parents to be able to identify the needs and feelings that drive that behaviour from our children and think about how we can use positive strategies to help stop unacceptable behaviour and get them back on track.

One parent of a deaf child explained why tantrums can be more difficult with deaf children.
“Tantrums in a deaf child are trickier than with other children, especially as he’s currently refusing to wear his hearing aids. But he’s no different from anyone else. He squeezes his eyes shut and has figured out how to turn off his radio aid.”

Another explained how tantrums were a rite of passage.
“When my daughter was 2–3 years old, she was full of tantrums and anger, we had to leave places! She wasn’t particularly noisy but she was so distressed at times. A health visitor said to me, ‘She obviously needs to do this,’ and that really helped me to understand this is obviously something she needs to go through. I learnt to not fight it so much, to be relaxed with her and just let her. She wedged herself once between a brick wall and a road sign, just saying ‘I’m not doing it!’ She obviously had a lot of frustration at that age, recognising that she had different stuff about her than other toddlers or that she was treated differently.”

How can I promote positive behaviour in my deaf child?

From time to time we see behaviours we don’t want to see from our children. Sometimes there are things we find difficult to deal with and want our children to stop doing.

We need to do things differently if we want to achieve a change. Instead of labelling or shouting at children we need to say clearly what we want them to do. For example, instead of saying ‘stop jumping,’ we can suggest what behaviour would be better, such as ‘please sit down!’ or ‘you interrupted your brother, he was talking, please wait until he’s finished, then I’ll listen to you.’

Sometimes it’s harder for deaf children to get their needs met, and it’s harder for the parent of a deaf child to understand those needs. Often this can lead to anger and bad behaviour because the child really wants their needs to be met. It’s important we take the time to try and understand what our child’s needs are through good communication. Your child may be feeling grumpy because they need something to eat or drink. They’ll be experiencing the feeling of hunger and, depending on their age, they might not recognise this feeling or have an understanding of what the feeling is, so helping them communicate those needs is important.

Routines are good as they help children to know what’s going to happen next and this helps them to understand what’s expected of them. Repeating the same things at the same time each day or each week creates a routine. It’s important adults follow the routine too.

One mum explained why communication frustrated her daughter, who is deaf.
“I think she was frustrated because she couldn’t communicate like the other kids. She couldn’t chat with people like she saw her other little friends doing. I think that being more relaxed with her and just letting her go through it helped. If it was in a very public place we’d try and move her if that was possible, but otherwise we just let her do her thing and didn’t make a fuss about it, and it did gradually pass.”

Practise new skills together

One of the reasons for difficult behaviour can be when we ask our child to do something they can’t do or lack confidence to do. Practising a skill helps the child to build their confidence and be able to do what they’re asked to do.

To practise skills its helpful for your child if you break a task down into small steps and teach these steps to your child. Remember, the tasks need to be age-appropriate.

You can break the task down by using a combination of ‘saying what you want’ (giving clear instructions) and by adding ‘routines’ (a collection of linked actions). Try and give prompts and encouragement to practise each step until the child willingly does the task themselves.

Becky, mum to Kenzie (2), who is profoundly deaf, explains the reward chart she uses with her son.
“I involve Kenzie with everything, he loves being my little helper. He enjoys helping me cook, clean the house and do the washing and, as long as he feels like he’s being helpful, and he’s happy… On the chart I have included colour faces to show his behaviour, if he’s being a good boy and has helped me prepare the dinner, for example, he gets to add a green smiley face to his chart. If I can see he’s starting to get frustrated, I show him that he has an orange face and I try to talk to him and calm down the situation before it reaches a red angry face to show naughty behaviour.”

Tips for dealing with tantrums

There’s no one way! Some ways will work sometimes and not others and for some children and not others. The secret to parenting is to have a set of different approaches, understand them well and know when to use them. Here are some ideas.

  • Saying ‘no’: Sometimes saying ‘no’ to something that might be completely unacceptable is the only solution. As parents this can be difficult when we want to stay positive, but from time-to-time this strategy is needed.
  • Distraction: Redirect your child’s attention to something that really interests them to diffuse a situation. You may need to revisit what’s happened later to talk it through, but it stops a situation escalating.
  • Ignoring: This is not giving any attention to the behaviour the child is displaying. This helps let them know that unacceptable behaviour is not a way to get your attention.
  • Choices: Giving your child a set of choices about a situation helps them gain some control over what happens next. Often bad behaviour comes from a child’s sense they have no control over something and this puts them back in control again.
  • Labels: Try not to label the behaviour, for example ‘you’re so messy,’ as labelling words can be hurtful or can encourage the child to act like the label and continue the negative behaviour.
  • Investigate their behaviour: Take time to think about what you could do to stop this happening again, and how you might react differently?

Here are some tips from other parents:

“Our Teacher of the Deaf suggested talking on his hand so he can feel the vibrations – that calms him down. Taking his shoes off so he can run around barefoot and feel the vibrations of the sounds around him helps too.”

“His other senses are heightened when he’s throwing a tantrum so make sure his safe space smells right by changing his bed sheet bit-by-bit or sprinkling breast milk on his blanket or hanky. I let him touch skin to calm him down – we hug or stroke his face.”

“My son is very visual and loves playing with pictures and stickers, so I created him his own reward chart focusing on the main things he does throughout the day, such as eating all of his dinner, getting himself dressed or using the potty. If he does these things well he gets to add a picture to his chart and throughout the day he can see how many he has built up.”

“When sitting my son on the naughty step, I explain why he’s been asked to sit there and, when he feels happy again and doesn’t need to be naughty, we can carry on with what we were doing.”

“I think the best thing to help him is spending time sitting down with him and listening to why he may be angry or sad. I don't believe in shouting or being angry as this just escalates the situation.”

The importance of praise

  • Try a star chart for younger children, that provides a visual representation of how well they’re doing at the moment. Try and use this in a positive way to reward good behaviour, rather than taking stars away for negative behaviour.
  • Introduce a weekly reward chart which offers your child rewards for positive things they are doing and good behaviour. Rewards don’t need to be physical things, but can be time you share together or special activities like baking a cake together. The best rewards are often the child’s own pleasure and pride – praising their efforts increases their confidence and self-worth.
  • Remember to recognise when your child is trying hard and to give them praise and to recognise when your child has been successful and to give them praise, until they’re doing it automatically and aren’t looking for your praise anymore.

One parent of a deaf child explained why she didn’t feel it was always right to punish.
“We did the naughty step thing when she was little, that was a trend then, but I always felt a bit cruel doing that. Sometimes you feel sorry for them, these kids are dealing with this extra thing in being deaf and you’ve not experienced this yourself. Sometimes it’s that balance between not princessing and spoiling them, but also giving them coping strategies. It gets better but you really have to put in the work, hang out with parents who do things the same way as well, I think that’s good modelling for the children.”

Becky, mum to Kenzie (2), who is profoundly deaf, explains why praise is so important for her family.
"The most important thing is praise and reward and I tell him all the time how he has made mummy proud. If he does something well, like using the potty, Kenzie and I jump around the room with our arms up in the air shouting ‘yay!’ He loves this and understands that he has done something well and is very pleased with himself."