Children’s temper tantrums seem to invite one of two responses: caving in or never budging—neither of which leads children to becoming tantrum-less.
In the case of caving in, the problem may not actually be the tantrum. It may more likely be a habit of saying “no” simply because it is more convenient to say “no.” Then, when children start to whine and fuss about that “no,” it becomes more convenient to say “yes.” The child learns that “no” doesn’t really mean “no.” She can get her way if she moves to the whine-and-fuss form of communication. To be more effective as a parent, try not to say “no” if you are going to cave in should a tantrum ensue. Make sure your “no” decisions are considered, and then try to be consistent by sticking to your “no” regardless of challenging behaviors.
What about never budging? What if a tantrum makes you realize that your initial “no” lacked consideration and reflection, and, in fact, there was no good reason to have said “no” in the first place? Parents can then feel stuck because they don’t want to give in to the tantrum behaviors, but sometimes parents do make mistakes. We need to be willing to model changing our mind if we were unreasonable. Most children will be able to differentiate between caving in to screaming and reconsidering. It is important to model for kids that we are willing to consider points of view that are different from our own. It is OK to acknowledge that we were a bit hasty in our decision, and after reflection, we realize we made a mistake and can “flex” to a new point of view.
More to consider: Stay engaged . . .
Children who are left alone with powerful feelings may get stuck in a cycle of tantrums as they try to get someone to listen to them and stay with them the next time they’re upset. Or, they may learn to feel that they are all alone in life. Staying engaged with children—even when they are full of powerful, painful, hard-to-handle emotions—is important.
Many children are sent to their room for a time-out when they have a temper tantrum. Try to remember that when children are in the middle of a tantrum they are out of control and flooded with painful feelings and stress chemicals. They need a loving someone nearby—and often that is you, the parent. We want our children to know that having strong feelings doesn’t isolate them from the people who care about them, and no feeling is too awful to be shared with us—even overwhelming feelings of frustration.