Is that a tantrum, or a cry for help? | columns | Hindustan Times
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Is that a tantrum, or a cry for help?

Deviant behaviour usually comes with warning signs — passive aggression, flashes of anger; don’t ignore them.

columns Updated: Nov 12, 2017 00:05 IST
Sanchita Sharma
The triggers for tantrums may vary in children, but over-the-top reactions to everyday situations could well be an indicator of underlying depression or a mental health disorder.
The triggers for tantrums may vary in children, but over-the-top reactions to everyday situations could well be an indicator of underlying depression or a mental health disorder.

How can you hurt someone who’s done you no harm? Hurting a stranger is actually easier because the victim is dehumanised and the perpetrator believes he has a greater chance of not being caught.

Much like Harry Potter and his pals under the cloak of invisibility, the anonymous assailant take bigger risks.

This invisibility syndrome also applies to trolls, mobs, rioters and gangs, where individuals subvert their own identity to assume a collective herd identity. It makes them feel faceless and powerful enough to get away with anything, even murder.

Teenagers and young adults are more likely to be sucked into a vortex of collective brutality because they have a stronger need to seek validation, identification and support from their peer group, whether online or in real life.

It doesn’t always have to be friends influencing behaviour in the real world. Very often, discussions with faceless administrators of online forums add to reckless and even criminal ideation, as is tragically obvious from the many suicides fuelled by the Blue Whale challenge.

Deviant behaviour is not about pent-up hostility. Anger is a normal and healthy emotion. It becomes destructive and disruptive when it is not controlled.

Like anger, deviant behaviour and behavioural problems usually come with warning signs — passive aggression, temper tantrums etc — that can help identify the issue in early childhood and adolescence. Using coping strategies in early childhood leads to better social adjustment in later life.

Always angry?

Aggression is both an emotional and physiological phenomenon. It brings with it biological changes — the energy hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline shoot up, as do heart rate and blood pressure.

How aggressive people are and how they express hostility depends on both gender and socio-cultural environment. Since most cultures encourage aggression in men and discourage it in women, men are often more impulsive and physically aggressive, while women often channel anger into passive-aggressive behaviours.

Lashing out at everything that annoys you is not healthy, and neither is turning anger inward to become resentful.

In children, the triggers for tantrums may vary, but over-the-top reactions to everyday situations could well be an indicator of underlying depression or a mental health disorder, which could make children yo-yo between withdrawing into a self-destructive shell and losing their temper over minor irritants.

Mental illness is widely underdiagnosed in children. Close to 10 million teens ages 13-17 have mental health problems that need treatment, reports the National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, but diagnosis and treatment remain elusive.

Cry for help

The biggest mistake parents make is looking for excuses for their child’s tantrums. Asking a child or adolescent to express their frustration verbally without raising their voice or acting out cam help them understand there are other more acceptable ways to deal with the situation and their feelings about it.

Being heard also helps children feel adults are there for them, which make them feel safer and helps restore balance.

Punishment rarely works because it is perceived as a further injustice and can make the child secretive, hostile and resentful. Several studies show that children who are physically disciplined are more likely to resort to violence to deal with problems as they grow older.

Early signs of trouble can include regular temper tantrums, fights, hurting animals, hitting others or the self, throwing things. Children who display such symptoms regularly, and in response to smaller and smaller irritants, may need professional counselling or prescription medication.

Even in the absence of a clinical problem, children can learn to resolve conflict in incorrect ways, and much of the onus for this lies — however unfairly — on the parents.

If you want your children to have a healthy equation with anger, you have to show them by example how feelings can be expressed in assertive, non-aggressive, ways.

The old adage about counting till 10 before reacting is simple and effective, as is using conciliatory body language, like opening the arms wide.