Witnessing tantrums in elderly parents as an adult can be disorienting. We have the perception of tantrums only being thrown by toddlers or teenagers, but emotional outbursts can occur at any period in life. Understand that acting out is human, and can be triggered by intense feelings such as anger, sadness, and fear. At times, although this may be difficult to accept, tantrums can also be thrown because your parent is stubborn and insistent on getting their way. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can also bring on tantrums as your parent may feel they are losing control.
While witnessing your elderly parent having a tantrum can be mortifying, especially if it is in public, there are ways that you handle the situation. Schedule an appointment with your loved one’s doctor if you need to confirm that their behavior is not due to any medication or other underlying issues.
Do Not Engage
If your parent throws a temper tantrum out of stubbornness, engaging can often make the situation worse. Sometimes disengaging may be the best option. Make it clear that you will not listen to your parent’s tantrums, but remain calm and cool-headed. If it is safe to leave your parent alone in the room to give them time to calm down before you interact further, it is best to do so. Having at-home therapy materials such as coloring therapy nearby can also help to diffuse the situation, giving your parents the opportunity to calm down while you are out of the room.
Reassure Your Parent
If your parent’s tantrum is due to anxiety, sadness, or anger, sometimes what they need is reassurance. Their tantrum may include telling you that you do not love them. If this happens, give them some time to calm down, and then reassure them that you indeed do love and care for them. If they continue to challenge you, it may be best to disengage from the situation.
Take Care of Yourself
Sometimes your parents may be unhappy if you need to take a break from caring for them, perhaps by engaging a temporary caregiver. Understand that you are entitled to your own needs, and do not feel guilty if you need to take a break, although you need to ensure that your parent will be well cared for in your absence.
Even short breaks can bring you a much-needed respite. Schedule some time in your everyday routine to do something small for yourself that you can look forward to. Set your appointments as necessary and make sure that you are able to accomplish all of your tasks. Your loved one will soon grow to understand that your me-time is important to you.
Understand that feelings of guilt over needing time to yourself are common, especially if you do not have practice with setting appropriate boundaries. As the saying goes – always ensure that your own oxygen mask is on before helping others. Taking care of yourself will ensure that you are in the best state to take care of your loved one as well. Be kind with yourself and understand that you have your own needs. If you need support – whether from friends, family, or a trusted third party – do not hesitate to ask. You do not need to go through this alone.