Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tantrums . . . How to Deal

I'm sure that every person, at one time or other, has witnessed a public tantrum by a willful and screaming child.  Tragically, most parents don't know how to cope with the classic tantrum.  Generally you see parents shushing their kids and promising them all kinds of treats and toys if they shut up.  Definitely NOT the best way to go about stopping the present tantrum and preventing future ones.

No parent likes punishing their child or seeing them suffer.  Unfortunately, life isn't fair.  Nobody is perfect.  We live in a broken (yet beautiful) world where suffering is a part of every day.  While I don't want to sound cynical or unfeeling, the sooner a child learns they can't have everything they want simply because they stomp their little feet, the better off they will be for the rest of their lives.  A child who is pampered and has their every whim immediately granted will inevitably grow up a selfish and self-centered human being. Miracles do happen, so there is hope that someday that "me me me" child will grow out of the nasty phase, but it's not a miracle to bank on.  Please, do your child and the rest of the world a favor.  Don't give in just because they look at you with puppy dog eyes or bang their heels against the ground.  You are the adult.  You know what is best for the child, and they have to learn to accept that.  Once they're older, you can begin giving them the responsibility of making the right choices.  Until then, little Sammy and his sister Susie shouldn't get the lollipop or video game they want just because they cry.

I'm not against giving children presents.  Oftentimes, it can make them feel loved (since Gifts is one of the 5 love languages), and presents can also work as motivators or rewards.  I am, however, avidly against giving kids a "reward" because they stopped screaming long enough for you to think.  This system of rewarding bad behavior does not end the bad behavior.  Rather, it encourages it.  Kids are smart.  They can put two and two together and discover that the sum is: tantrum = reward.  And believe me, your child will only become more greedy and more disobedient and tantrum-prone.

But how do we stop the tantrums?  Sometimes you can, and sometimes you can't.  There's a few methods of approach for tantrums.  Punishment for acting up, whether you're at home or out in public.  Ignoring the constant whining and screaming.  Preempting the angry reaction of your child to the famous line, "No, you can't . . ."  And, most importantly, training your child to understand that when you say "No," you mean NO.  There is no debate.  No pleading.  No complaining.  A simple "Yes, Mom." is all that is expected.

Consistent discipline should occur regardless of the environment.
Discipline and Punishment:  When your child throws a tantrum, please feel free to punish them.  Put them in time-out.  Take away their tv or computer time.  Give them extra chores.  Whatever you decide works best for you and your child, make sure you act immediately.  And follow-through with what you say.  If you take something away, make a solid mental note or write it down somewhere.  Otherwise, when you forget, your child will begin to see that the punishments are meaningless words.
     I have found that time-out seems to work the best for most kids.  Plus, it's a technique that can be used anywhere at any time.  If you're at home, it's best to have a specific "time-out" spot.  Pick a spot that is away from their toys and anything else distracting that could make time-out a fun thing.  Set the timer for the allotted time (a minute per year is often a good idea).  Tell the child why they are in time-out.  Walk away.  If they get up before the timer goes off, put them back and reset the timer.  Do not talk to them.  Most kids will try to get your attention, making time-out a game.  Ignore them.  They are being punished.  When the timer goes off, go back to the child and explain again why they were put there in the first place.  Then they're free to go.
     Sure this works great at home, you say, but what about at the grocery store or the park or any other public place?  The same exact method works in public too.  You just have to be strong enough to discipline your child where other people can see you.  Sure, everyone knows and dreads the stereotype of the "horrible mother" who punishes her children because they want a toy or a pack of gum.  But what you have to remember is that only you know what is best for your child.  If bystanders want to judge you on doing what is right, then let them.  Their opinion shouldn't matter to you.  On the other hand, I should think that most passerby would be grateful to have you take care of the screaming child rather than letting them run rampant.  If you're in the store, stand the child near you and set the timer.  Don't talk to them or make eye contact (but make sure they don't run away.)  If they move or try to play with things on the shelves, start the timer over.  Your shopping might take a bit longer, but the consistency and continuity will pay off.

Ignoring Petty Complaints:  In my experience (and that of many people I know), a child often throws a tantrum to get your attention.  If you ignore the screams and continue with what you're doing, oftentimes the kid will stop screaming and try a different tactic or decide it just isn't worth it.  When a two-year-old child pitches a fit because he can't have something, ignore them.  You've already told them no.  Give them a warning.  If the screaming doesn't stop, time-out happens.  Chances are, they'll decide to play rather than risk the time-out.  Again, this method needs to be accompanied by instruction in the proper method of getting an adult's attention and the correct response to a negative answer.  "Excuse me, Mommy," is a beautiful phrase.  You do, however, need to make sure that you respond to the child when they ask you politely.  If you're in the middle of a conversation, say, "Just a minute."  Your child should be taught to wait patiently.  At the earliest opportunity, take care of the child's question.  This saves a lot of screaming on both ends.  Too often a child asks, "Mommy."  "MOMMY."  "MOMMY!!!"  And finally the mother responds, "WHAT?!"  So the child thinks they need to yell in order to be heard, which shouldn't be the case.  Regardless, refusal to banter with a child because they're screaming is always a good thing.

Preempting Tantrums:  This method revolves entirely around discipline.  Plus a bit of knowing your kids pretty well - when they're over-tired.  When they've had too much sugar.  When they simply have too much energy.  Kids need to learn from an early age that bad behavior equals a just punishment.  But the punishment you give can be tempered by your knowledge of the child's current state of emotions.  If you know your child is acting up because they're overly energetic, send them to run some laps or do jumping jacks.  Avoid giving them too much of the foods they shouldn't eat.  And, above all, teach your children that complaining and screaming is never a method of getting what they want.

No means NO:  Every child will push buttons to see how far they can go before you explode at them.  What you need to keep in mind is that your word, as the adult, is the ruling word.  What you say goes.  There's no discussion.  If you can teach your children to listen the first time you say something, your family life will be much smoother.  At the same time, remember to balance things.  Don't say no to everything they want.  Sometimes you can say "yes" if they want a cookie or a short break from school.  You just need to remember, above all else, what is most important for them.  Let them be kids, but train them to be adults.

I know this is a lot to process.  At some point in the future, I'm sure I will revisit this topic in smaller, more potent posts.  In the meantime, hang in there.  You do have the first responsibility of raising your children, but you don't have to do it alone.  Ask for advice from your friends or your mother.  Read a few of the self-help books out there.  Just remember to take everything you hear and read with a grain of salt.  Not every tactic or disciplinary method works for each child or each family.  With a bit of hard work, however, you can create a discipline that fits your family like a glove.  When you strike the balance of harmony, you'll be surprised at how easily everything else that seemed stressful in your life falls into place.  Good luck!

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