Top Tips for Tackling Tantrums

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It’s summertime! Although school may be out, between bringing the kids to camp or to swim lessons, family life doesn’t slow down. Even though life may still be busy, summer is a great time for parents to address their child’s problem behavior before school starts back up again. Here are some tips to avoid those dreaded outbursts.

To Everything, There is a Reason

If we stop to think about it, everything we do in life serves a purpose. In other words, we do things for a reason. We brush our teeth to prevent cavities. We abide by traffic laws to avoid accidents. Although your child may not yet be of the age to drive, much less remember to brush their own teeth, they, too, engage in many behaviors for specific reasons.

Your child’s problem behaviors are no different – whether it be screaming, throwing, hitting, etc. So, to address these outbursts, we must first ask ourselves, “What is my child trying to get by engaging in these behaviors? What is the purpose of this behavior?”

Usually, the reason for problem behaviors can be narrowed down to three motives:

1. To get attention from others.

2. To get access to something they want.

3. To get out of having to do something they’d rather not do.

To figure out exactly which of these reasons applies to your child’s problem behavior, it’s important to consider two factors:

1. What led up to the behavior?

2. What happened immediately after the behavior occurred?

Did their sibling refuse to play with them? Were you busy cleaning? Did you deny their request for cookies before dinner? Did you ask them to take out the trash?

Top Tip: Don’t Give In

Whatever the reason, it’s important to not give your child what they were seeking if it’s not necessary.

So, after their 10-minute tantrum, did you stop prepping for dinner and have a sit-down discussion with them about their misbehavior? This may be just the attention they were looking for. Or, did you give in to their pleading for just one cookie before dinner? Did you agree to let them finish playing their video game before having to take out the trash? If so, they may have learned over time that these problem behaviors work for them in getting them what they want – even if it’s just on occasion.

Therefore, it’s important for parents to teach their child that these behaviors will not work for them any longer. If the behaviors don’t work, then there will no longer be any reason to act that way.

Once you decide to not allow your child’s problem behaviors to work for them, you may find that their problem behavior actually worsens for a short time before it improves. Don’t worry! This is to be expected. If your child can no longer access the cookie by engaging in their usual 10-minute tantrum as they have in the past, then they may begin to scream longer or louder or may begin to engage in other behaviors, like throwing toys.

It is important to expect this to happen and continue to stand firm without giving in and the behaviors should eventually subside. You can do it!

Utilizing Positive Reinforcement

Instead of allowing these problem behaviors to work, let’s teach them which productive and more appropriate behaviors will work for them. When your child successfully waits (even if for just a brief moment) for something they want, provide them with enthusiastic praise and reinforcement. When your child follows your instructions quickly or without complaint, reward this behavior and tell them how happy or proud you are of them. Be sure to reward even small improvements.

Just remember your child may have learned these bad behavior habits over many years depending on their age, so it may take some time to shift their behavior in the right direction. But don’t give up because many of these problem behaviors can improve when we respond consistently and in an effective way with a cool head.

Seeking support for your child’s problem behavior? Ochsner’s Michael R. Boh Center for Child Development offers behavior therapy and parent consultation. Schedule an appointment today by calling 504-842-3900 or learn more by clicking here.

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