November 09, 2006

Temper Tantrums

Another in Series of Letters from Concerned Parents (If you would like to submit a question for Mac to answer, please feel free to post your question at the bottom of the page!)

Dealing with Children Who Throw Fits or Temper Tantrums

Dear Mac,

I am the mother of a 2 1/2 year-old who has all of a sudden decided to throw temper tantrums when she doesn't want to leave a place (a store or the library, for example). How can I reason with such a young child? My husband says, "Don't talk, take action" and I don't always agree with him. I like your methods of dealing with older children, Do you have any suggestions for me.


Mary North Carolina


Dear Mary,

Please understand that I am not choosing sides but… I do like what your husband says, to a point.

Do Not Try to Reason with Agitated People;
Especially Not Agitated Children

First, do not try to reason with any human being, of any age, when they are in an agitated state! Doesn’t matter, 2 1/2 or 50! So what do you do? Wait until things calm down and then do some practicing of the situation when both you and your daughter are both calm. Before going to the store or library practice the desired behavior.

Let Your ACTIONS Speak!

Then, follow your husband's advice and let your actions speak. Explain very clearly that the practiced behavior must be adhered to or we will have to leave. The minute that a tantrum starts, LEAVE! (I would rather tell you to just ignore it, but, you and your daughter might never get to go back to the library again after they revoke your library card.) Give no explanations at this point. Never give warnings. (“The next time we are leaving.”) That just teaches a child that your first statements don't ever have to be listened to. The minute the calm behavior returns, practice the desired behavior one more time.

Never Discuss the Undesirable Behavior

Do NOT discuss the undesirable behavior. Do not talk about her tantrum. Don't tell her how embarrassed you were. Act like it didn’t happen. Do not assume that leaving the library (or any other place) has taught your child anything about proper behavior. It has not. All it has taught is that there is a real consequence for inappropriate behavior. (Be sure to note that this consequence is far different from spanking the child or removing some other privilege. Leaving is directly related to the inappropriate behavior in the Library. Screaming, crying, and tantrums are not allowed in Libraries.)

NEVER Discuss the Tantrum!
Only Discuss the Behavior You Want Your Child To Use

Only instruction of proper behavior will teach proper behavior! That is what so many parents fail to understand… punishment says nothing to a child about what is correct or what is desired or expected! You, the parent, must do that. You must teach the positive behavior.

Personal Experience Taught Me a Great Lesson

As you may have heard me say many times, when I was a young boy, I was sent to my room a thousand times for teasing my sisters. I was never once able to conjure up a thought of the behavior my parents would have liked for me to use in relating to my sisters. What I thought about was what they tolod me NOT to do! That was all that they said to me! "Stop teasing your sisters!" Howcould they expect me to think about positive things like negotiating, complimenting, expressing love and admiration? They never talked about that!

I did come up with some ideas ofmy own but they were not what my parents wanted me to think about! I thought about how "I was going to get the little brats out behind the barn and hold their heads under water in the horse trough for tattling on me,” and how “I was going to stick gum in their hair.” I also thought about how “I was going to run away from home and how unfair my parents were.”

It would have been so much easier if Mom and Dad had taught me how to get along with my sisters. I had to learn how to do that on my own at 35! Don’t let your daughter wait until 15 to discover how to behave in a library. Teach her today!

Take Delight In Your Children!

One more thing, delight in this time with your daughter. See the humor in her action. She is discovering what works and what doesn’t. She is just trying out things. Be her guide. She tried out a tantrum! Teach her that a tantrum does not work! A tantrum results in leaving the library. Teach her that appropriate behavior works to get what she wants! Polite request preceeded by "Please," and followed by "thank you," really work well in getting what she wants; and then, watch in excitement as she delights people with her charming behavior that YOU taught her. Remember, when she is twenty-nine you will be recalling these antics with nostalgic delight.

The Parenting with Dignity Course Will Help You To Perfect Your Skills in Teaching Desired Behaviors

The strength of using our Parenting with Dignity videos is that many people can watch them together and discuss what they are learning! For this reason, I recommend that you get a set and watch them with some of the parents of the kids your child plays with. You will not believe how much more you will learn from the class sessions if you share thoughts with other parents from your community! Also, by watching them with the parents of your kid's friends, it will insure that your children will get some of the same instruction while away from home. So much easier to teach manners, study habits, drug free living, etc. if your kids hear the same thing in every home they visit! Fits and tantrums won’t work in other homes either! Other parents who have attended the course will understand that when you simply ignore inappropriate behavior, it may disappear, but if you offer a better and more appropriate behavior, it will drastically increase the chances of the child using that behavior in place of a tantrum!

It is far easier to raise a child to use appropriate behavior in a community that has similar expectations!


Mac Bledsoe


Anonymous said...

I don't know what to do, I have been in a new relationship recently and my daughter seems to be even more needy when he is with us. But she wants it from him and gives me the additude and is disrespectful.When i try to correct her on her behavior she screams, kicks. I'm not sure how to change this problem, what do I do?

Mac said...

Your new relationship is yours and not your daughter's. She did not pick out your new mate... She is just a child and she has never been through this before! Your daughter is just trying to figure out how to deal with this new and difficult relationship. Your daughter is just trying things out to see what works. She does not have a huge bag of tools to try. YOU need to give her guidance. Ask yourself, "What do I want my daughter to do in these situations?" Once you have answered that question, the strategy for teaching that behavior will most likely become apparent to you. If you have a difficult time coming up with a precise description of the behavior that you would like for your daughter to use, then it is even more understandable why your daughter is having trouble. You have lots of life experience to draw on. Your daughter is only a very young girl.

Remember that most of the time, the worst way to teach something to a young child is with words. do some role playing and demonstrating of the desired behavior. And be sure to not get caught in the trapof telling her what NOT to do. if that is all you tell her it stil does not teach her what TO DO!

Next, I would strongly suggest that you go to lessons 5 and 6 in our Parenting with Dignity Curriculum or read Chapter 9 in my Parenting with Dignity book and do the assignment. Pick one of the 10 Ways to Communicate Love to a Child for each day and then do it! Your daughter needs to be confirmed in the fact that you love her just as much now as you did before you began your new relationship! From her point of view, she is now being asked to share your love with a strange man, and that is not easy! She needs your guidance.

Mac said...

Another way for you to reason this through would be for you to imagine for a moment that your daughter brought a new daddy into your home... Now ask yourself, "Just how would I react to this strange new sitaution? I didn't pick this new guy but here he is! How should I act toward my daughter's new choice for someone to share our home?"
The empathy created by looking at this very similar situation and extremely difficult situation might allow you to know more of what your daughter is feeling and how difficult this new relationship is for her!