Children receiving cancer treatment and siblings can be quickly overwhelmed by their experiences.
When stressed children do not have outlets for their emotions, strong feelings can manifest as challenging outbursts.
Help your children by recognizing these tantrums are a result of inner turmoil, and identify ways to diffuse their stress before it bubbles over. Quality time invested when you are all calm can support everyone’s wellbeing in the difficult moments.
Tantrums are a normal behaviour for young children, particularly when not yet fully verbal. The child is overwhelmed by the situation or emotions, but lacks the words to express their feelings.
Tantrums should be expected when the young child is under intense stress. Older children who have grown past tantrums may also regress to tantrums. Regression is a natural coping response for overwhelmed children, and it is important to recognize this.
While this behaviour is understandable, it is not acceptable. With compassion and patience, help your child identify problems and develop ways of coping with the stress before it boils over.
You can predict potential flash points by being aware of your children’s major stressors. For example, having an IV inserted or being left with neighbours.
By recognising the risks, you can take steps to diffuse the stress. For example, prepare your child for the procedure and give appropriate choices. Choices might be which arm for the IV, which comfort position or which distraction method.
For siblings who react to going to a neighbour, you can diffuse stress by taking time in advance to pack a special overnight bag and telling the children you miss them when you are apart. If possible, let them choose which friend or relative to stay with. Slip a special treat in the bag and tell them that when they find it, they will be reminded that you are thinking of them.
If your children have a favourite comfort toy, blanket or pacifier, let them have this during potentially stressful events. Parents often withhold these comforts, feeling they are inappropriate for the child’s age. However, regression to previously outgrown behaviour is a common and natural coping mechanism in stressed children. Denying the needed comfort item will only intensify the child’s distress.
These interventions will only be helpful when you take time to prepare with your child in advance. They will be ineffective as last minute actions when your child’s stress has already bubbled over into a tantrum.
If your child’s emotions cause destructive behaviour that you cannot handle alone, ask for help. A child life specialist or psychologist can help children work through difficult emotions and develop healthy outlets for them.