Opinion | Surely tantrums aren’t new?


This week in a casual conversation with someone who I believe to have grandchildren, she told me something that’s stuck with me.

“Kids these days have less self-discipline.”

It was a discussion we were having around tantrums, meltdowns, dummy spits – whatever you want to call them.

Picture a child screaming, red-faced, banging their fists on the ground in the supermarket aisle, losing it over something minor.

In that moment, bystanders might give a judgemental eyebrow raise or maybe a sympathetic smile in the direction of the parent trying to manage their tiny, tantrumming tyrant who’s probably now sounding more like an injured animal than an over-tired three-year-old.

But when she said those words, it hit me like a tonne of bricks.

Is that right? Do my children tantrum and have less self-discipline or self-regulation than my generation or any of the others before them?

In that moment I was glad my pre-school aged daughter, who is known to throw a tantrum or two, was nowhere in sight.

Interestingly, I’ve also been told by a couple of relatives whose kids are grown up and approaching middle-age that they genuinely can’t recall their children having massive meltdowns.

“Maybe they did, I just don’t remember them doing it.”

Out of all of my friends who have children in the bracket of 18 months to four years – I’ve seen their kids tantrum (and vice versa).

Admittedly some children are more prone to them than others.

But, they all do it.

Many of our conversations revolve around how we manage it, how truly exhausting it is and how as they get older we find ways to diffuse it before they reach peak meltdown danger zone.

We discuss how we bribe or negotiate and battle each morning to get the stubborn one dressed.

We talk about the fact that after a day of a child who has cracked it over everything – we are an exhausted, nervous wreck.

Questioning our parenting skills and wishing away those hard days.

I’m not sure if children these days tantrum more, or whether they get away with things they shouldn’t.

I’d like to believe though that perhaps it’s just a (very) small part of growing up and it’s a phase we all like to forget.

I don’t yet have the benefit of hindsight.

The thing is, a disapproving look to a parent who is struggling to contain an unhappy child mid-meltdown or a throwaway line about how your kids never had a tantrum, can be upsetting for a parent in the midst of it.

It can make us feel as though we are doing something wrong.