Help! My Child is throwing another tantrum! What do I do?
“Nooo! I don’t want to put it back!! I want it!!! Please, Mommy, please! Can I have it? I promise I’ll take out the trash forever!” exclaims little (fill in your child’s name here) sitting in the middle of the aisle of the grocery store. You respond by saying, “No. Not today. Come on, let’s go.” Little (your child’s name) screams “No!!”, bursts loudly into tears, throws the item against the rack, and falls to the floor kicking his feet. Feeling all eyes on you and flushed with embarrassment, you grab your child and quickly pay for the item as you hastily exit the store. Sound familiar?
Managing childhood tantrums whether at home or in public is a difficult task. Left not knowing what to do or how to respond most parents will give in to their children so the tantrum will just stop! Unfortunately, this is the recipe for creating a monster who quickly learns that all he or she needs to do is to throw a big fit to get what he or she wants. Every parent’s nightmare.
Here are four simple rules to help you manage and eventually put an end to your child’s tantrums:
Rule #1: Ignore it “Are you crazy?” you ask. “It’ll just get worse!” In all honesty, it probably will in the short term. It will probably get worse before it gets better as the child tests your resolve, but I promise it will be worth it. Ignore the tantrum. Turn your body away. After you’ve verbalized your decision, act as if you don’t hear the screaming or crying.
Rule #2: Stay strong. Remain strong. Don’t give in. This step is crucial! As stated earlier, your child’s tantrum WILL escalate. He or she will scream louder in an effort to get you to give in since, in the past, it always worked. But don’t. If you do give in then your child will have learned just what it takes to get what he or she wants. And the next time, that’s exactly where your child will start! But if you don’t give in when the tantrum starts, you child will try different behaviors – some good, some bad. This leads to Rule #3…
Rule #3: Find SMALL moments to Praise. Continue to ignore bad behavior. However, if your child does anything good (acceptable?), no matter how small it is, praise her or him. Let your child know that THIS gets your attention.
Rule #4: Repeat Rules 1-3 as needed. Be patient. Reducing the frequency of childhood tantrums takes time. Consistency is everything. When your child acts out again – and he or she will act out again – repeat Rules 1, 2, 3.
If you feel you would like to have help with your child or have particular questions about child-rearing issues, contact our Child and Adolescent specialists here at the Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center of Southern California.
Author Dr. Brenda Aranda is a Psychologist specializing in child and adolescent services.