Everyone knows the feeling, the flush of embarrassment, your blood pressure rising, a vague sensation of panic in your chest. All this because your kid is acting up. It starts slow, doesn’t it? He gets an idea of something he wants. He nags you a little, and you might not even notice. When that doesn’t work, he begins to whine. By the time he’s crying, you probably know what’s coming next. He’s bringing in the big guns: a full-blown tantrum.
By age 10 months, children have already figured out the drill. By one, two, and three-years-old, they’ve become experts. Their secret weapon is to wear you down so you give up and give in.
Let’s be clear—we’re not talking about your child asserting her needs. Please always be present for your child when she asks for any necessity, be it food, warmth, the bathroom, reassurance, or just a hand to hold.
More than anything, tantrums look like addictive behavior, and may even lead to it.
Before you had your own children, you might even have seen a child throwing a tantrum at the grocery store and nodded to your spouse, “Our children will NEVER act like that!” Oh, how little we know. 🙂
In fact, these tactics work on many, many parents. No matter your income, there’s some price—be it 50 cents or $50—that seems like it’s worth paying to keep from having to deal with the inconvenience, emotional strain, and embarrassment of a public come-apart.
Unfortunately, every time you give into these demands, the price goes up. By the time your child is pouting for video game systems or luxury cars, there’s no turning back.
However, I have a little counterintelligence to share with you.
This three-step process, used correctly, will absolutely nip tantrums in the bud.
- The magic word to successful parenting is consistency. Do not waiver. You must react in the same way every time your child won’t take “no” for an answer. Prepare yourself to be consistent by agreeing with any co-parents or caretakers on your strategy, and then by rehearsing scenarios in your head before a problem starts. For example, the grocery store is a hot spot for tantrums, so be prepared to say, “We only buy things from our shopping list,” or “You can have one treat today.”
- Give your child choices throughout the day. “Do you want to wear the red pants or the blue ones?” If another option isn’t available, explain to the child she has had many choices during the day and this time it is your choice. In our grocery store scenario, you might offer a choice between Goldfish and chocolate milk.
- In a very calm voice, show empathy. “I am sorry you are upset, but it is nap time.”
If all else fails, place the child in a safe environment that you can monitor and let him have his meltdown. It’s important you do not overreact. In time, he will figure out this tantrum tactic doesn’t work.
As a final fourth step, consider a professional opinion if this course of action doesn’t work for you. Extreme tantrums may indicate a mood disorder, and you’ll need back-up to help your child manage it.