In the last post “From Zero to Meltdown in less than an Aisle”, I talked about ways to prepare for and avoid meltdowns before you go to a public place. Part II is all about tricks to try while the meltdown is occurring. Tantrums are just a type of behavior which is most likely serving one of four functions. The four main functions of behavior in children are to get attention, to get out of something, to get something, and as a result of sensory needs. The first step is trying to identify “why” your child is having a tantrum. This is important because you do not want tantrum behaviors to be successful in serving the desired function or the tantrum is more likely to occur in the future. For example, if your child is having a tantrum because he does not want to sit in the cart, then taking him out of the cart is likely to encourage him to tantrum the next time he wants out of the cart. Ok, this sounds simple enough until you are in the middle of the store with your child in full-blown tantrum mode. Take a deep breath, you can do it! The most important thing to remember is not to let the inappropriate behavior be successful. Here are other things you CAN do:
Give your child a more appropriate way to “ask”:
If you do not mind giving your child what he wants that is causing the tantrum, having him complete an appropriate behavior before giving in. For example, model and help him use an appropriate gesture to point to what he wants or word to tell you. When he or she does the appropriate action (even with a little help from you), give him the desired item/action.
Distract, Distract, Distract:
Toddlers naturally have short attention spans. Distraction is a powerful tool for helping with tantrums. Once a toddler’s mind is on to the next item of interest, the tantrum usually resolves. For example, if your child does not want to stay in the cart, distract him by giving him the boxes of cereal to put into the cart as your helper…or let him make a choice between two options of what to put into the cart. Talk about what you are doing and what he is seeing.
Push through it:
Sometimes, it is best to shorten the trip a little and push through it. If you think the tantrum is to get out of the store, then I would suggest starting small and push through it. Maybe only pick up a handful of items and then complete purchase. This helps to set the precedent that sometimes we have to go to the store and tantrums do not get us out of the trip.
If you know going to public places is difficult for your child, make sure to give lots of praise for what he or she is doing well. Also, rewards for appropriate behavior are options. My note would be to establish this reward prior to versus during a tantrum. Break the trip into small parts at first and provide frequent rewards to help the child be successful, then increase the time between the rewards. Rewards do not have to be candy or toys. Remember, some of the best rewards are social. Hugs, kisses, pats on the backs make great positive reinforcement.
For children who have special needs
Public outings can be uniquely challenging for children with special needs. Consider how noise level, social interactions, movement, and crowds may impact your child. Consider your child’s strengths and motivations to help him or her learn to manage these situations.
Remember to consider what works best for you and your child! These are just a few of many options! No one strategy will be a good fit your every family. Your strategies should fit your needs and comfort level! While tantrums are a part of development, consider the frequency and intensity of tantrum behaviors. If your child is having difficulty participating in daily routines due to tantrums or you have concerns about his or her development, we can help! Remember, Babies Can’t Wait! Contact the Parent Education –Infant Development Program of the RACSB: http://www.racsb.state.va.us/