By Sarah Lyons
When your child throws a tantrum, it is easy to get frustrated, overwhelmed, angry and embarrassed especially if the tantrum occurs in public. Unfortunately, the occasional tantrum cannot be avoided. They happen to every parent, but while your child is in the throes of a fit, try to remember these tips.
It is normal
The first thing to remember when your child has a tantrum is that it is normal. Tantrums are a normal way for kids to express their frustration when they may not be able to communicate their feelings appropriately. While this doesn’t make the tantrum any easier to deal with, it helps to know that developmentally this is a normal stage.
Do not engage
During a tantrum, the temptation can be to lecture, yell or reason with the child. They cannot hear you or comprehend reason when they are in the middle of a tantrum. The best thing to do is to wait it out. If you feel the need to discuss the situation with the child, wait until later when he or she is calm and ready to listen.
Leave the scene
When the child throws a tantrum, make sure they are safe, and then leave the area. Typically, if the child doesn’t have an audience to get a reaction from, the tantrum will cease. If you are not comfortable leaving the child alone, get busy doing other things and pretend to ignore them. If the tantrum happens in public, take the child to the car or the bathroom to calm down. If the tantrum continues and the child cannot calm down, buckle them safely in their car seat and drive home.
Think about what triggered your child to get so upset. How can frustrating situations be avoided in the future? Of course, not all tantrums can be avoided, but certain triggers can be removed. When armed with this information parents can be prepared to use distraction to lessen or avoid a future tantrum.
Don’t give in, except once in a while
Giving in to a tantrum will do nothing but encourage future tantrums. If your child is throwing a tantrum because he wants to eat a cookie before dinner, do not give him the cookie. It is also not a good idea to use bribes to stop a tantrum like, “If you stop crying, I will buy you a toy.” This rewards the child for the tantrum. However, if your child is in the middle of a tantrum and listening to the same annoying song repeatedly on the car ride home will help him calm down, this may be an exception you can live with.
You are not alone
Although it might feel like you are alone while your child has a fit at the grocery store, we have all been there. It is likely your child will have a tantrum in public at some point and it will be embarrassing and inconvenient, but it is unavoidable. Remind yourself again that it is normal for kids to have tantrums, leave the store if needed, and try to laugh about it later.
Use distraction, humor and hugs
During a tantrum, kids cannot listen to reason, but that doesn’t mean parents can’t try to wrap up the crying quickly. Try using a distraction like, “Where is the ball?” or “Do you want to read a book?” Make a silly face to lighten the mood or turn on some music and begin a silly dance. For some kids, a tight hug helps them to calm down when they are upset. Trying to help your child move past the tantrum can teach them methods for calming themselves down in the future. The situation that caused the tantrum can be discussed later, if needed.
Don’t doubt yourself
There was a day when I had dealt with a particularly horrible tantrum from my daughter and I blamed myself. “What am I doing wrong? I am a terrible mom.” After expressing these things to a friend, she reminded me that I am not a bad mother, I am just having a bad day. It happens to all of us. Remain confident in your parenting and remind yourself you are doing the best you can. Tantrums happen to all parents.
The next time your child has a terrible tantrum, try to stop and remember these tips. Ultimately, the tantrum will end, and your child will grow and learn to communicate more effectively.