A child’s tantrum is one of parents’ greatest fears because it seems as if the child is out of control.
When it happens at home you have the upper hand, but away from home, it is a different story. These tips are focused on tantrums in public places although many of the methods can be used at home as well.
1. You cannot effectively discipline children in a public place. In a store, restaurant or any other public place, you are at a disadvantage and your child knows it. The stares and the whispers of other people around you will not assist you in disciplining your child. They only put pressure on you to end the situation as fast as possible and if you try to calm the child with angry whispers like: “What are you doing? Stop it immediately!,” you will only make the situation worse. You are merely trying to put a band-aid on a gushing wound. And so the first rule is to always discipline at home.
2. Walk away. This might be one of the simplest solutions out there. Think about it for a minute. Your child throws a fit because he wants to attract your attention, so, if you are not giving him this attention, his attempts will fail. Give him a warning that you will leave him by himself, and if he continues, simply walk away. Make sure he sees you completely ignoring him and disappear. Make sure to keep an eye on him at all times and most of all try to ignore everyone else around you because this method will cause your child to make a longer fuss. But, eventually he will have to stop and come back to you. Ah, and by the way. No kid has ever died of crying, so no worries there. And for other people’s looks – they do not know you anyway, so why care about their looks?
3. Do not get into a confrontation. Your child wants something. Probably something you cannot or will not give her. So instead of getting into a fight with your little one, explain why you cannot give her what she needs but immediately offer an alternative. For example, if you are in a store and she wants a specific toy, tell her that the toy in this store is more expensive than another store and maybe she can buy it someplace else. Another example could be that you forgot your special toy money but you promise that when you get back home you will consider buying the toy. Make sure your wording is correct – never really promise to actually buy the toy. Do not give the false hope that she would get something you have no intention of giving.
4. Stay calm and think clearly.Throwing a tantrum is really a power struggle between your wants and your child’s. He is trying to suck you into this nasty mood and he is using his ammo – crying, shouting and rolling on the floor. I know it is very difficult, but you have to stay calm and think clearly of what and how you want to communicate. Strategize. I do not believe in threats such as: “Wait until I get home and you will be punished,” or “Wait until Daddy comes home,” or even the famous “I will call a policeman to take you away.” Instead, think of a good excuse or story about why you cannot get the item and deliver your speech in the most calm
and relaxed tone. A power struggle is like a black hole – it needs more and more energy to sustain itself. Take away your negative energy, and you take away 50 percent of the fuel for the fight. Your calmness and alternative solution will be heard more effectively if you do not lose your temper.
5. Discuss the behavior at home. Since you should not and could not properly discipline your child when in public places, you have to prepare at home. You need to anchor her good behavior and use it later to reset her. Whenever she is on her best behavior, compliment her on that and tell her how proud you are of her. Provide her with a reward. It does not need to be candy, it can be something as simple as giving her a pen to draw with, reading her a book or making her favorite dish. Make her appreciate and
understand that when she is on her best behavior, she will get more attention from you. When you are in the store, and she throws a tantrum, mention to her that anchored behavior and tell her that a big girl like her cannot act this way if she wants to continue getting whatever rewards you gave her for good behavior. Let her think about it and try to implement it.
6. Delegate. Even before you leave your house for the store, start delegating to your child. Start having him participate in the preparations of going to the store and push away the feeling that he is dragged there with you. Prepare the list of items you need to buy with him and let him prioritize your list. Ask him to help you prepare your bag; ask him to cut, prepare and hold the coupons; get a small carry-on for him and ask him to place his toys or snacks in it and carry it with him. Give him some money to put in a special pocket in his carry-on so that he can pay for the purchase. If he is old enough, count the money with him so he knows how much money he has. Make a big fuss out of every little detail and make sure you give plenty of positive reinforcement. At the store, continuously engage him with your activity. Let him be the initiator and your little helper. Create tasks for him: bring me this, look for that, hold this for a second, what is the color of this sign, watch the lobsters in their little aquarium and so forth. Engage him as much as possible. His little mind will be so busy trying to help and catch up with you that he will have no time to think about throwing a fit.
7. Show him some example – throw your own fit. If you were caught off guard and your child threw a fit and you had to escape the store while everyone was looking at you, talk to your child about his behavior in the car or at home and tell him that you do not tolerate such a behavior from such a big girl. And now it is your turn to lead by example. Next time she wants something from you, throw your own fit. Let’s say she wants you to read her a story, play with her, help her with something or simply hug her, tell her that the same way she does not want to listen to you in the store you now, do not want to listen to her. She will probably protest and may throw another fit (luckily this one will be at home), so simply continue with your line of offense. When she calms down and ready for some adult talk, explain the whole situation to her. When you are not nice to Mommy, Mommy can not help you.
For example, one day I asked my boy to bring his bag from his room so I can check his homework and he told me “you are not my boss” and refused to bring it. I could have gone into a conflict with him but chose not to. Thirty minutes later he came and asked if I could play with him. I said: “No. You are not my boss. I want to do something else now.” He got very insulted. I explained why I did not want to play with him and why I was acting that way. He understood the point very well. The idea is to show your child that he
cannot use his tantrum to extort you.
Lastly, tantrums are only a symptom to something else, maybe frustration with the parent’s behavior, pressure at day care, lack of discipline, etc. Dealing with a tantrum is just like preventive medicine. It costs less to pay for healthy people than for sick people and preventive medicine helps people remain healthy for a longer time. Same thing with tantrums – the more preventive methods you can use to root out this behavior, the less stress you will experience in a public place.
Barack Levin was born in 1970 in Tel Aviv, Israel and moved to Pittsburgh in 1996 to pursue his Master’s degree. Shortly after his arrival he met a beautiful French woman, Michelle, and fell in love. A year later, during a routine physical, he learned he had an irreversible and life-threatening kidney disease. He was 26 years old – the doctor doubted that he would see 30. But, despite this news, he refused to give up his dream of marrying Michelle and raising a multi-national family in the U.S.
Knowing he was living on borrowed time, and despite everyone he knew telling him he was crazy, he decided to become a stay/work-at-home dad and shoulder most of the responsibility of caring for his son for his first year of life (and, potentially, the last twelve months of his). “I wanted to offer him proper guidance, using some very unconventional methods, through the first steps of his journey to becoming a fantastic kid and a great man, a journey I feared I might not be around to witness much of,” says Levin.
Thirteen years later, Barack is alive and living in Atlanta, with Michelle and their two children. He is the author of the book The Diaper Chronicles- A stay at home dad’s quest for raising great kids, based on his experience’s, available through his website at http://www.baracklevin.com.