Being a parent is a daily battle with stress. Between going to work, feeding your kids, and making sure they are safe, having a kid is a stressful business. Factor in the loss of sleep that kids bring along, and you have serious health problems that can arise such as depression, anxiety, or even ulcers.
The best thing we can do is learn to handle our stress. One of the biggest stressors for parents is children throwing tantrums in public. It is embarrassing for both the parent and the child, and the concerned/angry stares from strangers certainly don’t help. However, many traditional methods parents try to use to calm their kids down actually harm the situation (showing affection, yelling, etc.), so it is imperative you do not fall into the trap of doing what your instincts might suggest you to do in the event of a tantrum.
Watching your child throw a temper tantrum in the middle of a public setting is a bad situation for everyone involved, but with correct preparation and response, this can be one stressful situation that you know how to handle! Going to the grocery store without having to worry about either hiring a babysitter or dealing with a tantrum is a big step in becoming a happier and more importantly healthier parent.
While there are endless factors at play behind children throwing tantrums in public, here’s a list of seven things you need to do to get your child to behave appropriately in public. If you follow these steps, you will be well on your way to not only having a happier child but a happier you.
7 Tips to Reduce Your Child’s Tantrums
1. Prevention is Key.
Know your child and their moods. If you know there is a good chance that they will have a tantrum, do not take them out. Everything in parenting is a conditioning process, which means this: If you bring your children along with you when you know they are going to act up, you are establishing the behavior they are accustomed to when they accompany you in public. If you bring them when they are in a good mood, and reinforce their good behaviors, it will condition them to be better for future trips. Even with toddlers, it is important to utilize “baby steps.”
2: Start With Small and Quick Trips
Do you have a big family event coming up that will require your child to be in public for a long time? Prepare them for smaller trips in public. Quick stops to the convenience store or the coffee shop will get them used to be comfortable in public. You want to work your way up to long public outings as gradually as you can, but of course, sometimes life gets in the way and you need to bring them out for an extended period of time. Having some successful smaller trips in the bank will help establish what behaviors are expected of your child in public.
3. Establish a Base Set of Public Skills
In your smaller trips, work on these skills with your child. The more tools they have at their disposal, the smaller chance they have at throwing a tantrum in the future. Some great skills to work on are:
- They can follow directions
- They can stay close to you, if not it is a dangerous habit in public.
- Accepting no. If your child can’t react to “no” well, maybe they aren’t ready.
- Accepting removals. You should be able to tell your kid to put something down without a big blowup.
- Transitioning between aisles and items.
- Transitioning back to the car and away from the store.
4: Limit Your Reaction
All the preparation in the world will not prevent your kid from having the occasional tantrum. It happens. However, when it does happen, you need to limit your emotion, not show any tension and reduce eye contact. By acting “robotic,” you will show your child that throwing a tantrum is not the way to get what they want in public. Ask them to use their words, and positively reinforce them if they decide to do so. Promote their good behaviors, and do not feed the bad ones.
5: Quickly Figure Out What Your Child Wants: The 10 Second Rule
Even if you are not giving your child attention during an outburst, other people will. If you cannot figure out what is wrong in 10 seconds, pick your child up and bring them to as quiet and private of a spot as you can. Limit the attention they can receive and the distraction they can cause. You want to put their tantrums on “extinction,” which basically means that you want to take away any value they see in throwing a tantrum. Ignore the, but do not ignore your child. Tell them that you want to help them, but they need to use their words.
6: Be Quick to Pull the Trigger
When you are quick with consequences, you condition quick shifts in behavior. If you don’t respond to a tantrum and allow it to go on for 20 minutes, you are establishing that as a normal tantrum cycle. Your goal is to extinguish tantrum behavior and to make it useless to them. By acting quickly, you are removing any value they see in throwing a tantrum, and you will make their tantrum cycle smaller and smaller.
7: Mirror Shifts in Your Child’s Behavior
Like I previously mentioned, you want to be a robot to tantrum behaviors. However, once your child starts talking to you about their needs, you need to instantly change your tune. You are there to help them make the best choice possible, so if you see progress, help them along.
Remember to take everything one step at a time, and not to stress if it doesn’t work right away! Parenting is all about the small victories. Every child is different, so you need to set your expectations based on how your child normally acts. And although this may not reduce all of your stress, hopefully, it can help you reduce one more thing on your way to becoming a happy, healthy parent!
Note: This article has been Guest Posted by Jacob Boney. Jacob Boney, Psy.D., BCBA-D created Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services with the goal of making behavior analysis available to parents and professionals who wish to practice, teach and disseminate behavior science. If you would like to write for HealthResource4u, check our guest submission guidelines.