We live in a society that is largely unforgiving towards parents and young children. Parents are often met with harsh stares and loud murmurs when their children are having tantrums outside the four walls of their house. The public expectation is that children be seen and not heard and parents should always be in control of their child’s behaviour. If you are a parent, you know this is not practical. Because of this, parents feel embarrassed and get no empathy when their child throws a tantrum in public.
It’s important to remember that just because your child is throwing a tantrum doesn’t make you a bad parent; it just makes you a parent. However, there are ways to reduce the incidence of tantrums and better control those situations when they arise.
You May Be Able To Prevent A Tantrum
Keep in mind that children are likely to lose their tempers or have a meltdown when they are tired, sleepy or hungry. So if you are planning a day out, make sure your child is well rested and fed. It also helps to establish ground rules before you step out. One likely place for a meltdown of a child, even a rested child, is the supermarket. You can explain ahead of time that you are there to buy groceries. You can also discuss one thing you are fine buying for them, so they have something to look forward to. It’s not foolproof but it sets expectations for the long term. Consistency is very key in dealing with children; so if you’ve said it, stay with it, don’t deviate.
Children are little people with big emotions. The best thing you can do for your child in the face of a tantrum is to stay calm. Remember, tantrums happen because children have strong feelings which they don’t quite know how to handle. Unlike your kicking and screaming child, you have the ability to control your emotions and restore the peace. Master the art of blocking out the chaos and staying in control. It sounds scary and maybe even unrealistic; but in actuality, it’s empowering for you as a parent to hold it together when your child seems to be falling apart.
You cannot bring your child to her senses by raising your voice or making threats. Getting mad will only escalate the child’s emotions. Instead, separate your child from the crowd and speak in slow and controlled voice. Be empathic. Acknowledge their frustration. Say things like “I know you are frustrated” or “I know it’s difficult to wait for your turn,” or “I know you really want to buy that toy but remember we came here to buy milk and apples.” If you need to fake it, yes I said it, fake the calm. Not only will it confuse those judgmental faces staring at you, it’s a way of standing up for your child (don’t ever give anyone the power to put your child down). While you ultimately want to get calm, it’s ok to fake it till you get there. Think of it as practice.
Be A Good Role Model
Be the example you want your child to follow. How do you deal with frustration? Keep in mind that children are always watching. Decide how you will behave no matter how your child behaves. There’s no denying the feelings of embarrassment, shame, failure, sadness and even guilt we feel as parents when our children act up. However, it is important to step away from those negative emotions and focus on thoughtful responses to those difficult situations. Ask yourself “how can I calm down when my child acts up?” as opposed to “how can I get my child to calm down?” As parents we are natural fixers, but it’s helpful to know, no one can control how another person feels, period.
Don’t Give In
The knee jerk reaction is to give in to your child’s request when he has a meltdown; but there couldn’t be a worse response. If you give in, you are setting a pattern where you create more tantrums. In fact, you are teaching your child that the best way to get what he wants is to kick and scream out of control. Be firm and stand your ground. If all else fails, use your most powerful weapon- the exit. Parenting is about sacrifice; it may not be convenient to leave a birthday party, because quite frankly, you were having a good time. However, if it means teaching your child a lesson in self-control, take one for the team.