By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
It’s probably not an exaggeration to describe young children as nearly helpless. They are completely dependent on their parents for all their physical and emotional needs. Most misbehavior is a misguided, desperate attempt to fulfill those needs.
Therefore, we can learn how to stop a temper tantrum and other misbehavior by being careful and planning ahead to ensure we are fulfilling our children’s needs.
1. Defuse Boredom
Boredom can constitute real suffering for children. They experience it much more intensely than adults. One hour of boredom passes quickly for an adult, but for a child it is intolerable. They do not have the tools to relieve their situation. As such, it is our responsibility as parents to be aware of our children’s emotional state and to rescue them when they need it. Boredom can lead to tantrums. By relieving their boredom well before it gets critical, we can prevent those tantrums. It takes work to keep kids busy, but we should keep in mind the tremendous benefits to their emotional health and, especially, to the parent-child relationship when we defuse boredom.
I always recommend having a nice supply of “emergency toys” on hand. It takes time and money shopping in toy stores and online, but it is well worth the effort. When your child is bored, stressed, misbehaving or just getting on your nerves, a well-placed emergency toy can resolve the whole situation. Don’t fear you are rewarding bad behavior. Instead, consider it a reward for good behavior he or she previously displayed. For a detailed discussion of the great tool, Emergency Toys, click here.
2. How To Stop a Temper Tantrum: Know When To Say “Yes”
Many parents feel their child is endlessly making demands, and they simply can’t say yes all the time. This is a reasonable, if difficult, position that almost all parents find themselves in.
Now, every child has a special number of times he or she needs to hear “yes” and a number of times he or she can handle “no” while still remaining relatively content and well-behaved. Let’s say a particular child needs “Yes" 50 percent of the time and can handle “No” 50 percent of the time. If the parents of this child happen to say yes only one third of the time on average, resentment and frustration is going to accumulate and tantrums, defiance and misbehavior will result. In this case saying yes only a little more often can bring your child into his or her comfort zone and prevent many intense problems. Since we don’t know our children’s “Number” exactly, try to say “Yes” just a little bit more often and check for results.
3. Know When To Give Commands
As with saying “No,” giving commands too often causes your child to feel restricted and controlled and encourages resistance, defiance and tantrums. If your boss came in every 5 minutes and gave an order, would you be happy to always comply? By making just 5 percent fewer commands, you can resolve many instances of misbehavior. Generally issuing fewer commands results in increased compliance with those commands we do choose to give.
Which commands do you cut out? Start with the small stuff. If she’s splashing in the sink, let her, don’t say anything. If he’s shouting, try to tolerate it and resist the urge to ask him to stop. Save your commands for the big stuff like going to bed and not running into the street.
For a detailed discussion of the topic of giving commands, click here.
4. Be a bit more permissive
Many parents are just a little too restrictive in what they do or do not allow their children to do. Once, a 4 year old came in to my office and stood on the chair. Her mother reprimanded her, “Get down off that chair right now!” Perhaps, in some cases, it might be permissible to allow a child to stand on a chair, considering that this is a normal, relatively safe behavior for children. It may sometimes be wiser to overlook these small misbehaviors. Your child will feel less restricted and will be less likely to tantrum later.
Similarly, bouncing a ball and jumping on the bed are often irresistible behaviors to a small child, especially when confined indoors. If possible, remove breakable items from an area where your child can engage in these activities. Encouraging these behaviors in a safe way will result in a happier, less irritable child who will be less likely to tantrum.
5. Learn to Tolerate Noise
What’s the first thing you notice on a public bus full of schoolchildren? The noise! Children are naturally very loud. Shouting and making noise is normal, healthy behavior for children. You can, however, do several things to reduce it. You can ask your child nicely to keep it down and they may sometimes respond to your request. Other times, you can distract noisy children with an interesting toy, activity, snack or story. But, tolerating noise sometimes is part of being a loving parent. By being loud, children are healthily expressing their personalities. Shouting, getting angry or punishing may scare your child into compliance in the short run, but it just doesn't work over the long haul and can damage the parent-child relationship.
6. Embrace the Mess
Children are naturally very messy. When your first child spills a drink you may yell at him. With the second child you might make him clean it up. By the third or fourth kid, however, it doesn’t bother you anymore and you just clean it up yourself without any reaction. As with noise, tolerating the mess your child makes is part of being a loving parent. You may very gently ask them to help clean up, but you should temper your expectations with young children. Click here to see my blog post, How to get kids to clean up.
7. Increase Pleasure and Happiness
Tantrums and misbehavior are caused by a low level of pleasure and happiness. If your child is under stress at school or at home – such as during a divorce or bullying – the pleasure he or she experiences is greatly reduced to begin with. Consequently, even ordinary disappointments can cause tantrums. Children under stress need extra attention, gentle words, treats and fun. It’s not a privilege for them but a need. Ask yourself, “How can I make my child happy today?” For a detailed discussion of the topic of increasing the happiness level, click here.
A Tantrum Defused
Let’s say 8 year old Darrel’s mom promises him and his brother that she will buy them each a bag of chips in the drugstore. Mom grabs a few things and waits in line while reminding them to hurry up and pick something out so she can pay. Meanwhile, Darrel finds himself in the toy aisle and gets engrossed in playing with the toys. Mom urges him to hurry up and pick something out but he ignores her. So, mom finally pays and gets Darrel to leave. “What about my potato chips?” Darrel asks. “I’m sorry you missed your chance. I’m not getting in that line again.” Darrel begins to tantrum and carries on until they get home.
How could we have defused this situation? You see, Darrel wanted to pick out his chips, but he got hyper-focused on the toys and simply did not have the maturity and self-control to tear himself away from the toys and select his snack. His mother might have led him away from the toys and helped him pick out his snack, or perhaps she could have picked one for him. After the fact, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world for her to get in line again and pay for a snack, as it would have prevented a long tantrum. When a child is promised something, even conditionally, we should see that he or she fulfills the condition and gets what was promised. It's amazing how fulfilling a child's needs ahead of time can prevent almost any tantrum! In Parenting Counseling, I go through all the events leading up to tantrums, and give specific, personally tailored advice exactly how to interact with the child differently, in such a way that will completely prevent such problems from happening in the future!
I invite you to peruse the rest of my interesting blog, the specialties on this website, or download one of my informative free reports to learn more about how to communicate with your child.
If you feel you need guidance with how to stop a temper tantrum from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan,
you may give me a call at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!