The whining. The crying. The flop to the floor. The screaming and kicking. When my kiddo has a meltdown, I want it to stop ASAP. Here are my foolproof tips for avoiding tantrum behavior and making it stop quickly. Hang these on your fridge. Even though I wrote them, they’re posted on my fridge. No one can remember everything in the heat of the moment. Good luck and let me know what you think:
BEFORE THE TANTRUM
Having a positive connection with your child is extremely important for healthy attachment. It’s also critical to healthy human development and helps build self-esteem.
Simple ways to build a connection with your child include:
- Engage in or talk with your child about an interest he/she prefers (e.g. trains, princesses)
- Provide opportunities for your child to show you his/her strengths
- Attend closely when your child is showing you something he/she is good at and offer praise
- Have regular “special time” (10 minutes) with your child when talking about problem behavior is off limits
Using a behavior chart and a reward system can greatly increase your child’s positive behaviors, while at the same time decreasing your child’s negative behaviors.
- Choose 3-5 positive behaviors you’d like your child to complete (e.g. make bed, share with sibling, say “please” and “thank you” during mealtime)
- Reinforce positive behaviors with praise or tangible rewards
- Attempt to ignore negative behaviors that are not unsafe
- Set up a reward system (token economy) so that your child can earn tokens (points, stickers, etc.) for positive behaviors
- Consider using visual aids to make your expectations of your child clear and consistent (e.g. a chore list)
- To set up a token economy, watch Dr. Luisa’s Vlog on how to do it right
Children thrive off routine and consistency. It’s important parents stay consistent in how they parent, offer rewards, and enforce consequences. A reward system is only effective if the child knows what to expect.
- Follow through with your promises to your child
- Provide rewards consistently
- Make sure “no” always means “no,” no matter how much your child may tantrum to try to get a “yes”
It is easier to help your child prevent a meltdown than it is to try to stop one after it starts.
- Look for times of day, types of situations, and physical cues (e.g. tiredness, hunger, body language, transitions) that signal your child is becoming upset
- When you identify your child is upset, help him/her label feelings and use coping/self-soothing strategies
- Coping may include physical activities (such as taking a walk), relaxing activities (such as breathing exercises), or distraction
DURING THE TANTRUM
Paying attention to a tantrum will only reinforce it. Ignoring or disengaging from your child will initially make the behavior worse, but will decrease it faster and prevent future tantrums.
- When your child hits his/her boiling point, disengage completely other than to keep your child as physically safe as possible
- Even though it is difficult, stay calm. Your child will feed off of your emotions
- During the actual meltdown, do not attempt to reason with your child. Your child can’t hear you when he/she is upset
- It’s okay to remind your child to use coping skills. You can model coping skills for him/her (e.g. take deep breaths). Sometimes everyone needs a time out
AFTER THE TANTRUM
Cool Down Time
After the tantrum, even if your child seems perfectly calm, allow him/her time to fully recover.
- Don’t talk about the tantrum or negative behavior yet
- Limit demands on your child
- Delay giving consequences until everyone (including you) is calm
- The goal at this point is to help your child learn to calm down peacefully so they can use this skill in the future
Later, when everyone is calm, talk about what happened.
- Attune to and validate your child’s feelings
- Share your perspective in a nonjudgmental way and use feeling words to communicate your emotions
- Give consequences. If possible, the consequence should be directly related to the negative behavior (e.g. if a child breaks something, he/she has to do chores to earn money to fix/replace it)
Having a child who has frequent meltdowns is tough. Remember the unique qualities that make your child precious. Make sure you take care of yourself so you can be there for your child. If you feel your child’s behavior is interfering with your daily life, Harmony At Home can help. Contact Dr. Luisa today.