When Tantrums Happen
There are those moments when your normally submissive sweetheart becomes a pint-sized terror. When those times occur, it's important to put your own emotions in check before you try to help your toddler. Dr. Penny Glass, PhD, Director of the Child Development Program at the Children's National Medical Center has counseled countless parents who come in to her clinic exasperated with their child's behavior.
"Once a tantrum occurs the most effective way to deal with it is to ignore it," says Dr. Glass. While your child is in the throes of emotion do not establish eye contact. You may want to put the child in her room or another safe location and let him stay there, under your supervision, until he's approachable. When you feel your child is past the behavior, give him attention and eye contact. "By giving your child attention when he's being good, he's more likely to end his tantrum or have a less intense tantrum when you don't give him attention during a tantrum."
For less severe tantrums, you might want to try distracting or redirecting your child's focus on something else. If, for instance, he wants to hold the telephone, try to get him interested in a toy phone or a book.
Dr. Glass advises that you not dwell on the tantrum afterward, because that again draws attention to negative behavior. Instead, seek out opportunities to praise your child doing something good. "What the child generally wants is to be loved and liked. They enjoy finding ways to do that."
Tantrums at home are one thing, but tantrums in the middle of the library, grocery store, or another public place are quite another. Be consistent with your approach to your child's tantrums at home. Dr. Glass refers to this as "practice" for your approach in a public place. If your child has a tantrum in public do what you would at home, even if that means leaving the store or a friend's house.
Each expert stresses that you shouldn't give in to your child's demands while he's in the throes of a tantrum. "If you give in, you're setting up a scenario where the child thinks that he can get what he wants by having a tantrum. And that's not the position you want to be in," cautions Dr. Glass.
There are days when you'll be the perfect parent and days where parenthood is more a matter of survival. When those difficult days come, remember that parenting is a learning process for both you and your toddler. As you help your child deal with her emotions, you'll be setting up a relationship and trust that will extend from the terrible twos into the tumultuous teens and beyond. As Jen Singer, mother of two and author of 14 Hours 'Til Bedtime: A Stay-at-home Mom's Life In 27 Funny Little Stories puts it, "Toddler tantrums are normal. They just don't make a sticker for it in your child's memory book."