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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dealing with Temper Tantrums

The other day I wrote about a temper tantrum Jack had and my feelings about not having handled it in the best way possible (see Reason and the Common Preschooler). If it had been the first and only temper tantrum in a long while, you wouldn't have heard about it. I didn't really provide any solutions that day, which is not really how I want to roll. I've been pondering a follow-up and here it is. I know others are facing preschooler temper tantrum challenges right along with me. I hope this post helps some.

This time I enlisted some help from the professionals. Gail Bell of Parenting Power writes:
It is quite normal for younger children to have temper tantrums – however, how adults react (vs. respond) to them in the moment will have a huge affect on whether your child will keep having them.  Parents need to remember that they cannot (and should not want to) control their children.  The only people we can truly control are ourselves.  Therefore, if tantrums are a repeated “dance” in your home take time to make a plan on how you can handle yourself in the situation next time, right down to the specific script for the moment if necessary.  Also, let your child know more positive ways to handle  their negative feelings when they come up  – because they will. This way you will know how you want to respond and you can respond with consistency each and every time.  Allow your child to learn that they too can control their feelings actions, and learn from consistent consequences (good and bad).
"Parenting Power provides practical and realistic tools to help parents and caregivers feel confident, capable and calm in meeting the numerous challenges faced in real life parenting."
This is a great article on tantrums too. Here is what I understand about them, and essentially this is my plan for dealing with Jack when he is feeling frustrated. These statements are directives to myself about how to handle tantrums in the future, but if they seem helpful, feel free to adopt them. Don't, please, mistake this for advice about how to deal with your own children. All of our little angels are different, and we're all different, and the plan that works for your family may look very different from what works for mine.

  • If Jack is being unreasonable (e.g. demanding that no one else but him eat the strawberries, or demanding that daddy put the recently extracted piece of lint back in his hair), consider that he needs to gain a sense of control, and consider why this is. Jack has been sick lately, as have mom and dad. Mom and dad have not been all that well rested throughout, and it's possible that we just survived some of the days. Routines may have been interrupted, and Jack may have felt a little lost. Okay, we can fix those things. We recently instituted "Jack's choice", which is a morning, afternoon or full day where Jack gets to decide what the whole family will do (outside of the stuff that we all have to do - cook, do dishes, brush our teeth, etc.). Jack really seemed to get a thrill out of this. We'll probably try to keep at least one morning a week available for this in the future.
  • In the moment, stay calm! This really is easier said than done, but it is also THE most effective tool, at least with respect to my son. Getting upset along with Jack only seems to extend the tantrum, whereas using a calm but firm voice helps Jack to calm himself as well. Don't give in to the request made in the tantrum state. Giving him what he wants when he's raging, will only ensure that he rages again in the future to get what he wants. Simply state, "That's not how to get what you want," or "I don't respond to screaming/yelling/whining" and wait. When/if the request is made more calmly and politely, be sure to acknowledge it. Of course, if it's a completely unreasonable request, don't give into it at all.
  • In order to avoid at least some temper tantrum behaviour, be sure to keep Jack informed of plans and changes to the routine. Involve him in decisions where possible. We have, for a long time now, had a calendar that we review each day. What day is it? What do we typically do/what happens on that day of the week (e.g. is it a preschool day or a grocery shop day, does the garbage truck come today)? This provides a sense of stability. Things like which day will be "Jack's choice" this week can also be discussed. We also mark things on the calendar like when we will go on a trip, for example with a little drawing of a plane or car.
  • Edited to Add: Acknowledge what Jack does right outside of the temper tantrum. When he asks for something nicely (e.g. using please, no whining), compliment him on his manners and respond to the request happily!
Well, that sounds pretty good. We'll go with that. I'll report back if there are any developments. Best of luck with any behaviour challenges you are dealing with! And now for a little light humour. Where is THIS guy when we need him?
As a crowded airliner is about to take off, the peace is shattered by a 5-year-old boy who picks that moment to throw a wild temper tantrum. No matter what his frustrated, embarrassed mother does to try to calm him down, the boy continues to scream furiously and kick the seats around him.
Suddenly, from the rear of the plane, an elderly man in the uniform of an Air Force General is seen slowly walking forward up the aisle. Stopping the flustered mother with an upraised hand, the white-haired, courtly, soft-spoken General leans down and, motioning toward his chest, whispers something into the boy's ear.
Instantly, the boy calms down, gently takes his mother's hand, and quietly fastens his seat belt. All the other passengers burst into spontaneous applause.
As the General slowly makes his way back to his seat, one of the cabin attendants touches his sleeve. "Excuse me, General," she asks quietly, "but could I ask you what magic words you used on that little boy?"
The old man smiles serenely and gently confides, "I showed him my pilot's wings, service stars, and battle ribbons, and explained that they entitle me to throw one passenger out the plane door on any flight I choose." 
Retrieved March 13, 2011 from http://www.basicjokes.com/djoke.php?id=2186

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