Dealing with a Tantrum
It happens even with the most well behaved kid. It’s the dreaded tantrum. We watch our child flopping around on the ground, usually in a public place, like some sort of spoiled brat screaming his stupid head off, and we have a moment when we aren’t quite sure if we ought to claim him as our own. But, we do. And we try our best to not smack him upside his head. We look around for support, but all we find are onlookers who don’t seem all that sympathetic to our plight. So what to do. Do we nip it in the bud right there in the store and give the kid a smack on the butt and admonish him in front of everybody? Or, do we try to be the rational parent who talks calmly to the boy in an attempt to appeal to his better nature? Or, as a third option, do we drop what we’re doing, pick the boy up, carry him outside, plop him on a curb and give him a stern talking to? I would go for option number three. Here are your three options and the reasons why only one has a hope of working.
1. Correct the Behavior on the Spot:
This is what we all want to do. But, unfortunately, it won’t work. A tantrum is caused in the first place by overactive hormones that make it difficult for the kid to control his emotions. This is not to say that the behavior is acceptable, because it isn’t. It’s simply saying that this is a time for teaching rather than for punishment. When parents punish their kids in front of an audience they are leaving the kid in a difficult spot. He has no option but to fight harder or to lose face in front of everybody. Humiliating the child will only make him resentful and even more difficult in the future.
2. Talk to Him in a Calm and Steady Voice to Try to Calm him Down:
Sorry, but this is destined for failure as well. Tantrums are not only a loss of emotional control. They are also a play for attention which is usually accompanied by a demand. Parents who allow the tantrum to continue while pretending to be the voice of reason are giving their children exactly what they want – attention and understanding. Not only is there no consequence for the child for the outburst, but everybody within earshot is subjected to noise pollution. While trying to respect the feelings of the child the rights of every other person around are being violated. In the middle of one of these tantrums is not the time for reasoning. This is the time for authority and restraint, not one or the other.
3. Remove the Child to a Better Location for a Serious Discussion:
This is the right answer. One earnest attempt to reason with a child in meltdown is enough. After that it is time to take action. Drop whatever is happening to pick up or drag the child away from innocent bystanders. When the kid is outside or otherwise out of earshot and view of spectators it is safe to start the discipline. I normally take my sons and plop them in an out of the way corner and let them stew for a second. It doesn’t take long for them to realize they don’t have an audience anymore, and they start to quiet down. That’s the time to swoop in and start an admonition for the unacceptable behavior. The point to this approach is to teach the child by example that nothing is served from losing patience. Using this method the child’s demands are not met, the general public is not bothered (much), and the child learns a lesson about emotional control. Success!
We can see that there is only one proper response to this kind of tantrum. When parents act on their knee-jerk instincts to punish a son or daughter and assert authority in front of spectators what they are really doing is being bullies by playing a dominance game. On the other hand, when a parent allows the tantrum to continue by being overly patient the rights of people to not participate in the tantrum are being trampled. The child gets what he wants and the parent is left looking like an impotent fool. No, there is only one way to deal with a tantrum in a public place. It is to remove the threat and then deal with the threat without being a bully and without being a pushover. Kids can be unreasonable and annoying, but it is our responsibility as parents to teach them by example that proper behavior requires restraint as well as assertiveness. It may be a colossal inconvenience for a parent to just drop whatever is happening at the moment to deal with a weird little kid who’s got his pants in a knot, but it is necessary if that child is going to grow up into a responsible adult. Nobody wants to see an 18 year old crybaby, there are too many of those these days already.