You can prepare all you want, but things change and contingencies arise. Maybe we added another stop to the journey that we hadn’t anticipated, or things were taking longer than expected and the kids are bored of the boredom busters I’d packed in my purse. Here are the simple things we’ve done to avert WWIII.
Give Them A Little Attention
Sometimes all you need to do is stop for a moment and give your kids a little attention. You could say something like, “You’re bored with grocery shopping?” and then agree that it’s boring. A quick hug also works wonders. You can let them know you’re thinking of them by agreeing to do something they’d like next. Like stopping at the park before going home, or reading their favorite book when you get home.
Get Them Involved
Another neat trick is to get kids involved in what you’re doing. If you’re grocery shopping, turn it into a game. Maybe they get to take items from Mommy to Daddy, to put in the cart. Maybe they cross things off a list for you. When they’re old enough, they can help you find things on the shelves. You can ask them, “Can you see the peanut butter we use at home?” Or engage them in a game of “I Spy” or “Who can be the first one to find 10 things that start with the letter T?” or “20 Questions”. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Getting them involved can help you get back quickly from the brink of a tantrum.
Keep Your Voice Calm And Low
When you notice your child starting to get worked up, make sure you keep your own voice calm, low and slow. Not patronizing, but comforting. This helps to keep you calm, and it’s soothing for your child. It might not stop them being irritable, but it will prevent them getting worse. It will also let your child know that you’ve heard them. By changing the tone and pace of your voice, and making eye contact, you convey that you’ve actually heard what they said.
When They’re Too Hot To Handle
Okay, so preventing a tantrum is all well and good, but what happens if you find yourself in the middle of a full-blown tantrum?
Here are a few things to try.
- Pretend You’re At Home
As much as possible, pretend you’re at home or, at least, alone. Don’t let yourself get caught up in worrying about what people think. You’ll end up stressed, and no matter how hard you try to hide it, your child will pick up on that. And get worse. Ray Levy, Ph.D., a Dallas-based clinical psychologist and co-author of Try and Make Me! Simple Strategies That Turn Off the Tantrums and Create Cooperation says –
We know from studies that the only thing people judge is your reaction to the meltdown. If you look calm and like you’ve got it under control — yes, even though you’re not doing anything to stop the fit — they think, Now that’s a good mom.
In fact, research indicates that doing nothing can be the best way to handle a tantrum.
Relent At Your Peril
Whatever you do, don’t give in to what your child wants.
Because they’ll try it again next time. If a child gets their way by screaming once, then they’ll do it again. They may just scream louder and longer next time. Positive parenting is not the same as permissive parenting. As a matter of fact, setting firm limits, albeit empathetically is one of the fundamental pillars of positive discipline. If your kids are older, you could try to explain to them why their behavior is unacceptable in a calm and in-control voice. With smaller children, there’s no point in trying to reason. Dr. B from Mommyshorts says, “Children do not begin to develop the reasoning skills necessary to understand simple rules or verbal explanations until around 3-years-old”. If you have to, remove them to a space where they’re not going to hurt anyone or get in the way. It’s a good idea to tell them first by saying, “Take some deep breaths and calm down. If you can’t calm down we’ll sit over there until you feel better.” It’s not a naughty corner or a punishment. It’s a safe place to calm down, out of everyone’s way.
Deep Breathe For Two
Deep breathing can be calming, but how do you get a small child to stop howling and breathe?
Well, I tell my daughter to “think about your belly button”. The first time I did this she was so surprised she just stopped and look at her tummy. Then she really concentrated on her belly button. This might seem crazy but it’s based on a technique called centering, which is a powerful way of bringing balance and calm to stressful situations. Another way to get kids to breathe deeply is to use Amanda Morgan’s birthday candle technique to get them to take a few deep breaths. She pretends her thumb is a candle on top of her fist and says, “Oh, look at this! I have a candle. Do you think you could blow it out?” As they blow, she wiggles her thumb like a candle and then closes her fist so the candle goes out. But then she pops it back up (with sound effects) and encourages them to take a deeper breath and try again. With older kids, you could say, “We both are beginning to get worked up. Let’s calm down by taking 5 deep breaths. Let’s do it together…” and start breathing deeply yourself.
Keep Cool, Calm and Collected
Life is all about experimenting. Trying out what works and what doesn’t. And kids are clever. So naturally they try all sorts of things. Including tantrums. Our role is to help them figure out what works. And what doesn’t. It’s one thing to have a six-year-old with a temper like Suri Cruise, but none of us want our kids to grow into a ball of fury like Russel Crowe. So if your child tries a public temper tantrum and you feel the weight of all those stares, don’t drown in embarrassment. Instead, step into your starring role. Ignore the paparazzi, and keep cool, calm and collected. And repeat these magic words to yourself:
“I am A Fine Parent! I can handle this!”
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Take a moment to consider your child’s behaviour.
- Do your kids have public tantrums often?
- If yes, do you see a pattern that can help you figure out why this might be happening?
- If no, what are you doing right, and what can you do more of?
- What behaviour does your chilld exhibit when they’re getting fractious?
- How much do you tell your child – about where you’re going, and when you’ll leave?
- Do you think altering your communication will make a difference?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
- Take the next few moments to take stock of your purse and car. Pack up a few items such as snacks, pencils and a small pad for unexpected situations.
- Make a list of boredom busters that will work with you kids. What games can you play while out and about? How can you involve them when you’re doing ‘boring’ things like shopping?
- Visualize your child having a public tantrum. Make a list of what you will do to come out a super positive parent. Visualising the event now – while you’re calm – will leave you in a much better position to handle things in a high-stress situation if a public tantrum actually occurs.
- If your child is prone to temper tantrums, think about whether they’re ‘working’ for them. Do they get anything positive out of it (ie attention, or their own way). How can you increase the positive reinforcement they receive, so they’re less likely to use this strategy in the future?