Tantrum Prevention

Tantrums are loud, uncomfortable, and can be embarrassing for parents. Children tantrum to express what they want. This is why parents need to be consistent in making their expectations clear while also helping their children learn to communicate their needs and wants.

tantrum

A Disneyland Tantrum

I went to Disneyland with my family recently. The “Happiest Place on Earth” had no shortage of crying, screaming, pouting, and unhappy children. While I still had a great time, I couldn’t help but notice a pattern in the various forms of parenting by other guests.

When a child tantrums, parents usually do one of the following:

  • Yell at the child
  • Hit the child (unfortunate, but true)
  • Give the child exactly what they’re crying for
  • Show affection to try to soothe the child
  • Panic and beg the child to keep it down
  • Distract the child with sweets
  • Threaten to leave the park without following through
  • Threaten to leave the park and actually follow through

Go through this list as an outsider and consider which you would recommend to the parent if you had the chance.

From the outside, especially if you have no children, it may seem easy to calmly suggest something other than the list above. However, in the moment, a parent can be so irritated, dehydrated, stressed, and embarrassed, etc. that the only realistic choice is a quick, short-term fix.

What I try to explain to parents are the long-term effects of consistently resorting to the quick, short-term fix.

Tantrum Child

First, any form of verbal or physical attacking can cause permanent psychological damage. It is never effective in the long-term, and in some cases may cause Child Protective Services (CPS) to get involved. Second, any form of giving in teaches the child that they can tantrum to get what they want. Lastly, threatening to leave is not only unfair to the child, it is unfair to the parent. The best way to deal with this situation is to:

Actively ignore the child’s behavior. Then provide “labeled praise” when they stop.

Example: Johnny screams at Dad that he wants ice cream. Dad says, “Not yet, little guy, you haven’t had lunch yet.” Johnny screams and cries at the top of his lungs. Dad turns around and ignores Johnny to talk to someone else. Johnny eventually calms down when he realizes Dad isn’t paying attention. Dad immediately turns around, smiles, and says, “I like when you’re nice and calm, Johnny. You can have ice cream if you ask nicely after we eat lunch.”

What happened here? Johnny made a demand and had a tantrum when he didn’t get it. The tantrum was supposed to fluster the Dad into giving in. Instead, the Dad ignored Johnny, taking away any power Johnny could have over him. Johnny was forced to give up, but he received praise and positive attention when he was calm. Then Dad explained the rules of asking for ice cream correctly.

This teaches Johnny that tantrums don’t work with Dad. He chose to actively ignore the behavior in order to instantly praise the child once he/she behaves.

It is absolutely crucial that active ignoring is paired with praise once the desired behavior has occurred.

That is what makes this exercise “active”. The parent is actually waiting for the moment of quiet, and when the child follows a direction and makes a good choice, it becomes a critical teaching moment. This teaches the child that being calm and asking nicely works best with Dad, and it teaches positive behavior that can relieve the stress that disruptive children often trigger.

An alternative approach is to provide choices. For example, Dad can say, “You have two choices: You can have ice cream after lunch, or you can not have ice cream. Which is it?” Children need to feel like they have choices, and that is what they are given in this example. In reality, Dad is providing the child with the options. An approach like this will more likely result in cooperation, especially since he is paying attention to the fact that they’re probably just hungry.

After the child chooses to eat lunch first, praise them with labels such as, “Thank you for making a good choice and listening to Daddy” or “Thank you for being calm”. Let them know what you like, so they know how to talk to you and they will learn appropriate communication and behaviors.

Big Takeaway

Effective parenting requires a loving combination of:

  • consistency
  • patience
  • labeled praise
  • limit-setting
  • being attuned to your child’s needs

Start using these techniques NOW. Don’t wait until you get to Disneyland.

As an LMFT (Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist), I am trained to assist parents with these skills. Call today for a free 15-minute phone consultation if these are skills you’d like to work on as a parent. : +1 (818) 514-5655

Christina Castorena, MS, LMFT

– Christina Castorena, LMFT
Castorena Therapeutic Services