By Alison Cupp Relyea
As a mother of three young children, I have seen my share of tantrums. In the early years, I heard the advice about staying calm and trying to ignore the fury of a screaming toddler, but I didn’t fully listen. I found myself engaging in these battles all too often. My third child benefits from years of practice and from the reality that I no longer have the time to give his tantrums any attention. When he kicks and screams out of sheer frustration, my blood pressure – and my tone of voice - do not rise at all. And it is working.
Tantrums are all about getting attention, and if we give time and attention to a child having a tantrum, it becomes a behavior that is rewarded. Even if we are angry, the child still sees this as attention in some form, and is encouraged to continue to behave this way. When we start to negotiate in these moments, the child not only gets the attention they are seeking, but they also get a sense of something else: Control. Children are constantly testing the boundaries, and it is our job to maintain control and make those boundaries clear.
So, what do you do in the moment, particularly when a child is having a tantrum in public? Model the behavior that you hope they will eventually exhibit by being calm, quiet and clear. Staying calm shows that your child’s behavior is not impacting you. Using a quiet voice teaches your child appropriate behavior. When you do speak, keep your message clear and concise. You can state your expectations and lay out logical consequences without getting into any emotional discussions or negotiations.
Tantrums are a part of childhood, and every child goes through this phase to some degree. Stay strong – this, too, shall pass!