We’ve all seen it – the small child throwing a big tantrum in the grocery store. They scream, they yell, they hold their breath until their face turns an alarming shade of purple, all while simultaneously beating their small fists on the ground and contorting their body into positions rivaled only by the cast members of Cirque de Solei. We stand there and watch, shaking our heads and thinking to ourselves “Why, if that was my kid, I’d…”
You’d what? It’s easy for the childless among our ranks to look down their noses at the mother standing in the candy aisle doing nothing as her little darling has a major meltdown, but until you’ve walked a mile in her shoes, you can’t possible understand. Take a closer look at the bags under her eyes, the wrinkles in her skirt, and the fact that her designer purse has been expertly spackled with this morning’s oatmeal. This is one stressed-out mama, and she’s doing the best that she can.
Temper tantrums are no fun, and sooner or later, all kids throw them. Yes – even yours. They may be tired, or hungry, mad, sad, or scared, but the common denominator is that, for whatever reason, they want what they want right now and maybe if they scream their little hearts out, they’ll get it.
There are ways, however, to nip temper tantrums in the bud, and as soon as we master them, the tantrums will disappear.
The main reason a child throws a temper tantrum is because it works. At some point in their lives, they have thrown a screaming fit and been instantly rewarded with what they wanted. We didn’t mean to reward them – what we meant to do was make them be quiet for two seconds. Unfortunately, that quiet came at a price, and the next time they want something, they’ll employ the method that was successful last time. We’ve taught them a lesson, all right – but it was the wrong one.
We need to be strong, moms and dads. No bribing, cajoling, or giving in. The best way to stop a temper tantrum is to ignore it. Simply stand beside your child, focusing on something slightly over their left shoulder with a “My, this is interesting, but I’ve seen it before” look on your face. Do not interact with the child or attempt to quiet the tantrum. In fact, don’t do anything.
This is difficult in public, because the childless people (you used to be one of them, remember?) will be staring at you like you are, hands down, the worst parent they’ve ever seen. Ignore them. What they don’t understand is that at this particular moment, you are more than willing to trade this child to any one of them for two Butter Rum Lifesavers and half an ounce of pocket lint. This – is – not – fun!
Stick to your guns and let people think what they want. This is going to work, and you just have to wait the child out. The tantrum will stop when the child realizes you absolutely, positively, are not going to give in. They will pick their little bodies up off the floor, wondering where they went wrong, and that will be it.
Until the next time. Because there will be a next time. The pattern isn’t easy to break. The good news is, the duration and number of tantrums will gradually decrease, provided you’ve properly disengaged each time. Give in just once, however, and it’s back to square one.
After the tantrum is completely finished, it’s always a good idea to follow up with your child in an age-appropriate way. Let them know that their behavior was not acceptable, and a temper tantrum is never going to get them what they want. A slightly older child may benefit from role playing the situation that prompted the tantrum and testing out different ways it could have been handled.
Although temper tantrums are stressful, loud and potentially embarrassing, simple tricks can end them quickly. In no time at all, both you and your child will be much happier. And the next time you pass that mother in the grocery store aisle – the one doing nothing while her child screams his little head off – give her a pat on the back, and let her know this stage won’t last forever