Family Living

Tantrum Trenches

It’s about mid-morning, I’m at the supermarket, a little man, around two- or three-years old walks through the doors with his mother in tow.  She browses the aisles, while he, of course, spots candy.  She puts items in her basket, while he asks for candy. 

“Mom, can I get candy?”  He is gentle in his appeal at first. 

Mom decisively answers, “No candy.” 

Little man becomes determined. He jumps, he screams, he cries, he carries on.  Heads turn.  Some people don’t even see Mom, they shake their heads, they whisper, all of course wondering, “Whose child is that?”

As little man flings himself to the floor in a full-on tantrum, I wonder who will win this epic battle of wills.

We’ve all been there. I call them the “Tantrum Trenches”. It’s embarrassing, exhausting and if you’re a new parent, overwhelming.  Parenting can feel like a war zone sometimes. I can’t claim to be a parenting professional, but I’ve picked up a few things that have, so far, been working for me with my two boys. I love to read what works for other moms, so I hope my sharing helps someone out there too.

The first thing to try to do is model the behavior you want to see.  I know, or at least hope, that you wouldn’t jump up and down screaming for candy in a store, but we can throw tantrums in other ways. Like getting loud and angry when we don’t get our way. We’ve all had it happen. Maybe a waiter brings the wrong order, or we get a flat tire as we are already late, or a machine in our house stops working when we need it the most. (Thanks, washing machine). Our children are watching how we react in these situations. Do we get calm and purposeful or angry and loud?

Secondly, reward the behaviors you’d like to see, not the ones you don’t. You wouldn’t, for instance, give little man that candy after his tantrum. That would be telling him that tantrums are a good way to get what you want.  Then you’ll have a tantrum to deal with every day, and nobody wants that.

Thirdly, set boundaries before leaving home and remind them of these boundaries before getting out of the car. Set very clear standards. This is what is acceptable, and this is what is not acceptable.  Remind your little one of what you expect in clear and easy to understand language.  For example, you know that you’re going to the store where they always very “conveniently” place the candy right at the front and at kids’ eye level.  Before you go in, say “Remember I’m only going to get some chicken and veggies for dinner. Nothing else. Do not touch or ask for anything else.” 

Fourth, if there is an episode of unwanted behavior, let them cool off and then talk it through.  Help them to identify the emotion that caused them to react so strongly to not getting their way and talk about acceptable ways of showing and handling that emotion. I encourage them to think things through even when they feel upset or frustrated.  Breathe deeply, count to ten, articulate rather than have a fit. 

Fifth, it also helps to encourage empathy by asking questions to help them understand how their behavior affects others. Some questions like:

“How do you think I felt when you were acting up?”

“How do you think other people in the store/park/bus felt?”

 “What would have been a better way to handle how you were feeling?” 

I haven’t hit the dreaded teen years yet, but like I said, these and other strategies have been working so far and I’m hoping they hold.  If you want some more advice on the subject, check out www.webmd.com , they have a parenting page that might be useful to you. You could also look at www.verywellfamily.com and see if you like their ideas.

Oh, by the way, you want to know what finally happened with little man and Mom?  Remember, we left him throwing himself on the floor, while screaming and crying for candy.  Mom and little man were right at the checkout line by then. You know what Mom did?  She walked around him, paid for her items and walked straight through the door. She didn’t say anything to him. Little man was shocked out of his tantrum.  He jumped up and ran through the door and was reunited with Mom, who was waiting right outside. 

I’m guessing he won’t throw tantrums anymore since she didn’t get pulled in by his attention seeking behavior, but only they know that for sure.

About the author

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Kimberly Walters

Jamaican by birth and residence, an educator by profession and a writer at heart. Years of teaching English, Literature and Communication as well as a short stint with a little magazine in the island, have helped her hone her own skills as a writer and has cemented her passion in that field. Her other, and possibly primary super power is being a mother to two awesome boys who are teaching her as much about life as she hopes she's teaching them

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