It’s bedtime for 3-year-old Jonny, and you politely ask him to put his toys away for the evening. Little Jonny innocently looks up at you then continues playing. You remind him a second time in a slightly firmer tone of voice that playtime is over. This time, Jonny screams “NO!” In anger, you stomp over to Jonny, rip the toy from his hands and snarl, “Clean up your toys, NOW!” Jonny immediately throws himself on the floor, lets out a chorus of ear-piercing screams and wildly thrashes his arms and legs.
Does the above scenario sound familiar to you? If so, you’re not alone. We’ve all been there. But let’s face it, we don’t always know what to do with this child, do we? Sure we could give in to our child’s demands or rock our little one gently in our arms until the crying subsides. But neither giving in nor offering immediate comfort will teach our child to listen or prevent future tantrums. In fact, both of the previous reactions will encourage even more tantrums.
Try these three easy methods of responding to tantrums and you will not only resolve the current tantrum but decrease the occurrence of tantrums in the future.
When possible, simply ignore the tantrum. Children are often master manipulators. If screaming and flailing has gotten them what they wanted before, they will do it again. As a parent, the best response to a tantrum is no response. Leave your child screaming on the floor and go about your normal task as though nothing is happening. Do not speak to your child unless it is to remind them of the desired behavior.
It may sound silly but showing your child what his or her own behavior looks like can defuse the stressful situation and lead to an easy solution. Try throwing yourself on the floor next to them and begin screaming, kicking your legs and punching the floor. You will be amazed how quickly your child halts his or her own tantrum to watch yours. Once you have gained your child’s attention, explain that “This is what you (the child) look like when you throw yourself on the floor.” Ask your child if he or she thinks that big boys and girls act that way. Then reinforce that your child is big and model how big boys and girls express anger and frustration — using words, spending time alone, etc.
Give your child a 10 second or less time limit for the tantrum to end and explain what will happen if they continue with the tantrum after the time limit expires. Be sure to choose a reasonable consequence such as losing a favorite toy or missing out on a special dessert. Your child will test you and you will need to follow through with the consequence 100 percent of the time. When counting is used consistently and correctly, the child will often stop the tantrum before the time limit is reached.
Whether you choose to use one of the above strategies or come up with your own, the key to successfully decreasing the occurrence of tantrums is to be consistent. Always follow through with any consequences you have threatened and never give in. It won’t take long for your child to learn that you mean business and you will be on your way to a quieter, tantrum-free home.