Loving your difficult child: Dealing with tantrums
The children who need love the most will always ask for it in the most unloving ways. –Russel Barkley
When we love our children, it can be difficult to effectively deal with their most challenging behaviors.
For most parents, a child’s tantrum can be anything from heart wrenching to utterly exhausting. We’ve all been there. Standing in a grocery store, with a child who won’t stop crying, yelling, stomping. It’s stressful and leads parents to engage in a whole host of less effective behaviors.
This week, we’ll dig deep into this common issue, and see it in a different lens: the Language Lens.
As tempting as it might be, giving your child what they want in these moments can set up a longer and more difficult path to good behavior. Below you’ll find effective strategies to intervene in 3 stages:
Before the tantrum
During the tantrum
After your child has calmed down
BEFORE THE TANTRUM
Catch them being good!
We tend to notice misbehavior more than “good” behaviors. Children don’t understand their behavior, or ours, at our level. For a child to understand how to behave well, we must notice and reward good behavior. This, in itself, can lead to a drastic change in behavior. The reason for this is simple. Knowing what is disapproved not only tells the child what not to do, but what behavior is preferred. Acknowledge his/her toy-sharing, clap for him/her when he/she washes his hands before dinner without being told. Make a phone call to your significant other in front of the child to celebrate that he/she finished all his lunch in one sitting. Let’s catch the child being good, celebrate the small things.
If you are excepting a difficult time during some daily transition, like moving from play to a less preferred activity, then help the child cope by proving a visual timer and some fair 5 mins warning before time is over. You can also help the child by providing some options as to what comes next. Would you rather dress yourself or your doll first? If you know what causes the tantrum, find ways to avoid it before hand.
DURING THE TANTRUM
Listen to your child’s behavior, instead of their language:
As their language develops, children learn to communicate in various ways other than their vocalization. They are quickly learning what works, and what doesn’t work. And like anything else, it us up to us to teach them the appropriate from the inappropriate by showing them what we understand as language. Crying, nagging and other forms of expression can be used as a replacement of saying “I REALLY WANT THIS” if respond if you respond it as such. Some common examples of “mis” communication:
Look out for the communication behind the behavior. Always think about what the child is trying to say, while avoiding translating and responding to it.
AFTER THE TANTRUM
Teach the right words for the right coping strategy:
This might not happen overnight, as children’s behavior quickly escalate when their wants are not met. But be patient, it will be worth it.
Find the pattern:
Figure out the function of the difficult behaviors. What is happing consistently before, or after the behaviors? Is it a certain time of day? Is it a certain person who is reinforcing this behavior? Take mental or actual notes about these tantrums and study them to find out a pattern you can intervene with.
Thank you for this post!
But the real problem is DURING the Tantrum… It sometimes feels like it is no longer related to their ‘unmet wants’ but more like a ‘physical trans’ (if I may call it) that they go through with very little chance of stopping… or they simply get tired…
On a side note, when out with the kids in public places and a tantrum is about to explode … there is not much that can be done since holding our grounds as parents does not always give the best results :/
I guess it’s a phase, or at least I hope it is! 🙂
Thank you for your question. May I share it at a later time for other parents to benefit from it?
You are absolutely right, during a tantrum is the most difficult time to “deal” with it. However, like most things, the difficult is the most important. This is where the child learns whether his/her tantrum was an effective means of communication or if it was not successful.
This “physical trans” is a accumulation of frustration that usually ends when the needs are met or when he/she realized that it’s not going anywhere and “gets tired”. Therefore, a person’s response during this crucial time is very important.
This is why I said that we need to figure out WHY it is happening. If the child is in a tantrum because of something he/she wants, then its okay to calm them down (giving them attention) as long as we don’t provide them with the items they are tantrum-ing for.
If the child is tantrum-ing to escape an activity ( ie: shower) then it is very important not to delay the activity of allow the child to escape it.
These examples are very important for the future as they allow you to act before hand and prepare the child in the moments you know he will have a tantrum.
With regards to public tantrums, it is important to note that children are VERY smart and an easily discriminate between the times you will respond to their crying and the times you will not. So I would suggest not worrying about being in public, s this will lead the child to always behave this way in public. Instead, be confident in your parenting choice to teach your child the right way to communicate and to not respond to crying as language. All parents know what tantrums are , so don’t worry about being judged. It is important to stay calm and in control. Also, knowing you will be out in public will help you plan ahead to deal with tantrums and be prepared before they happen.
Please do not hesitate to ask me further questions or contact me for specific situations.