Liz Pearce, Director of Parent Engagement
Children’s Museum of Richmond
Remember how it was before you had children? You’d see a mom or dad struggling with their little one who was wailing. You’d think, “Whoa. That’ll never happen to me.” Soo, guess whose turn it is now?
The idea is to contain the misbehavior, without increasing its volume or length. In both cases, you need to establish your authority, AND build your child’s trust. Additionally, you’ll be gaining instant approval from the other moms and dads around you, who have ALL been there.
Misbehavior and tantrums are generally not much fun for the child either, and a child doesn’t like feeling out of control. If you can get a word in edgewise and you ask a tantrumming child why she is having a tantrum, it’s likely she will wail, “I don’t know!”
What to do:
Ignore the “Stink Eye” and Keep your Cool – Don’t take it personally … all children misbehave and have occasional temper tantrums. You may be embarrassed, and feel awkward, so focus more of your attention on your game plan, and less on your audience. Focus on your breathing, and determine whether or not your child is seeking attention or is frustrated and needs help.
Try Distraction - Many times, misbehavior can be managed by distracting the child. If it’s early in the process, you can change the subject, or ask them a question about the activity they are engaged in. Be careful not to reward the misbehavior with a bribe. This can backfire the next time a similar situation arises.
Check for Escape Routes – If you are flirting with disaster and must take a child to the grocery store when she is tired or hungry, have Plan A and Plan B (maybe even Plan C!) in mind. Explain your expectations of her behavior very specifically. Additionally, lower your own expectations. Self-control has a long learning curve in childhood.
Evacuate the Area – When the tantrum reaches a level that is distracting to other diners, shoppers, or event goers, you’ll need to quietly and calmly take your child by the hand, or pick him up and carry him. At this point, he is out of control, and it’s your job as parent to help him regain control. Many times the non-aggressive physical touch of a parent will let a child know that someone else is in control, and this will reassure the child.Additionally, a tantrum grows stronger with the more attention it gets. By removing the child from the situation, you are most likely cutting the duration of the tantrum in half. Remember, a tantrum will go on as long as it can hold an audience. Big audience reactions will be rewarded with an encore.
Try again tomorrow – When you and the child are rested, try the experience again. State your positive expectations of the child’s behavior, don’t belabor the previous tantrum, and tackle the grocery store, restaurant, or ball game again.