When we dream of having children, we usually envision tiny smiling faces happily playing and sweetly acquiescing to our gently issued requests, but kids are only human, just like the rest of us. They have good and bad days.
They’re in learning mode. They like to test the waters, and they will repeat behaviors that have been successful for them in the past. This means that giving in to bad-natured behavior can set in motion a pattern of escalating fit throwing that can evolve into outright tantrums.
The Set Up
My youngest was – and still is – a cleaver mite. At only a few months old, he figured out that if he pretended to obey, you would eventually stop watching him and move on to something else. Then he could return to the forbidden activity in peace.
He never gave up – ever. Unfortunately, he wore some adults down (not me) a few times. Once he figured out that big people could be persuaded to give him his way if he protested loudly enough, the game was on.
When his fit throwing began, I didn’t know what to do with him at first. I wanted to take the gentle but firm route, but had no clue what that was. Fortunately, I caught a few episodes of “Supernanny.” Jo Frost’s no nonsense approach was just the ticket.
The next time my son disobeyed, I put him in time out, explaining why he was there, and imposing a reasonable three-minute sentence. Then I continued fixing dinner, within sight of the pouting preschooler hoping he would stay there.
No such luck; he was in a boundary-testing mood, shrieking and kicking his feet. As soon as I looked away from him, he slinked back into the living room. I knew it was time to get the situation under control once and for all.
The key to controlling out-of-control behavior is to remain calm and constant. You want the child to know that temper tantrums won’t be tolerated and they won’t get him the result he desires.
I picked my son up, and took him to his room, closed the door, and sat down in front of it, essentially blocking it. I didn’t leave him alone, hit or yell at him. I didn’t need to. I sat with my back to the door, wrapping my arms around my knees and put my head down. I didn’t look at him or speak to him.
He continued to rant and rave for a few minutes. Eventually, he started trying to communicate with me. I refused. I sat quietly in my place for 10-15 minutes until he calmed down completely.
When his behavior became acceptable, I acknowledged him again. I hugged him and told him that I loved him, but that he could not throw fits like that. I told him we would leave the room when he apologized for his behavior. Then he would have to finish his time out and also do what I had originally asked him to do (probably putting away toys or something like that).
And that’s exactly what happened.
I’d like to say this immediately solved the problem, but I had to go through the same routine with him five times before it sunk in. Like I said, the kid didn’t give up easily. But as difficult as it was, I was glad to have found a method of making my point to him that allowed me to lead him to good behavior in a calm and loving way.
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