A father explains how to deal with a tantrum in four easy steps.
It starts with a sniff. Then maybe the whine. Before you know it you’ve hit full on air raid siren wailing and your beautiful child has turned into a purple faced, snot covered, yell propelled tear grenade…
I have a six year old. And a four year old. And (like their mother, not me!) they have what the professionals would call “strong will”. That means that they know what they want and they are quite happy to use any means needed to get it.
Recently the fragrant Mrs McD was out, leaving me alone with the two ankle-biters. Now the eldest has pretty much grown out of the tantrum phase but he saw his opportunity and went for it.
I can’t even remember the initial offence but it ended up with one of his toys being confiscated (one of our regular punishments). This triggered an immediate DEFCON 10 as he started howling his outrage. Roars of defiance, thumping of walls and a verbal battery about how I was “the meanest Daddy ever!” (any of this sound familiar?)
Yet a few minutes later all was peace and tranquillity and he was happily setting the table for dinner.
Well we’ve always found that consistency of rules is important and we have a well rehearsed sequence of steps when the tantrums start -
Jnr is exiled to someplace where he can scream and roar to his hearts content and is left alone to do it. Tantrums are to get your attention. By interacting with a tantruming child you reinforce the behavior. Take away the stimulus (your attention) and the tantrum stops. This part takes the child time to get used to but they will. They soon learn that you won’t interact with them until they’ve stopped yelling. Once that lesson has been learned they know that the behavior is self defeating and they’ll ratchet back.
Children are never too young to be treated with respect. Get down to their eye level and explain what just happened – “I took away the toy car because you…” or “You can’t have cereal for dinner because…” Explain why you did whatever you did that launched them into the tantrum. Explain why their behaviour is wrong and how it affects you (“when you say I’m a bad Daddy that makes me sad”).
Expect an Apology
At first you may need to prompt for it but it will become a habit. This isn’t about making them feel bad or making you feel good. It’s because saying sorry after you hurt someone is the right thing to do. It’s also a good way of drawing a line under the incident – an apology and a hug and the tantrum is gone.
Forget About it
Once you have the apology then the incident is finished. Your child is emotionally immature and they just lost the run of themselves. Don’t use it as a stick to beat them with, move on and don’t refer back to the incident. But don’t backslide – if they tantrumed because they were banned from TV then maintain the ban – otherwise the tantrum has worked!
Kids are great, but they need clear guidelines on right and wrong and they need consistency. It’s up to us to give them that.
So good luck!
Published in: Family