It doesn't take an expert in Pavlovian psychology to know that children can use tantrums to get what they want: kid wants candy in supermarket, mom says no, kid whines, mom says no, kid screams and hurls himself into neighboring carts, mom says, "Oh, OK, just this time." Next time kid wants something, he immediately goes into cart-hurling mode.
No question that tantrums (especially the public ones) can be some of the most frustrating times we have as parents. Choose your battles. If your kid is known to throw a whopping tantrum if he doesn't get extra milk in his cereal, what does it hurt to give him some extra milk? Obviously, you don't want to give in too much or all the time, but it's important to let kids "win" sometimes. The easiest thing is to give in, to do anything to stop the insanity. Intellectually, we know that's not good, because it reinforces bad behavior. Practically speaking, it's much harder to stand your ground. Harder, but not impossible. These strategies should help:
- Much of our kids' behavior comes from modeling. Youngsters who see their parents lash out (at each other, at kids, at the Bears) are much more likely to lash out when they're angry. Stay calm and cool, even when disciplining your children. His mirror neurons will kick in, and over the long run, you'll likely have far fewer public displays of destruction.
- We believe that the best way to handle temper tantrums is through prevention. Learn to predict the times when your child may be more likely to toss his milk at the people at the next table. The truth is that tantrums are surprisingly predictable: they often happen when kids are overtired, overstimulated, or hungry. (Same holds true for adults, right?)
- You shouldn't let a child's habit of throwing tantrums deter you from saying no. Kids need boundaries for many reasons, and they need to know "no." However, you may find that it's more effective to avoid using the N word directly. Maybe you start with a positive: "I love chocolate chips, too, but we're having dinner in an hour."
- Make sure all caregivers in your child's life know your ground rules regarding behavior and discipline. Consistency helps kids establish good habits. Inconsistency creates confusion and a side order of tantrums. It might be worth a family conference to make sure you're all on the same page; that's much healthier than having a fight with grandma and grandpa after they let your little princess watch back-to-back Disney videos when you have a no‑TV policy.
- If you're in a place where you can ignore a tantrum comfortably (say, your own home, as opposed to church), then go ahead and ignore it. No response from you eventually means he won't lash out to get one. For a child, drama without an audience is like a glass without wine — there's nothing to it. But beware: if you're going to ignore it, you have to stick to that. If he learns that your ignoring it for 30 minutes eventually leads to a great display from you, he will work even harder to overcome the ignoring phase to get that delayed reward.
A New York Times No. 1 bestselling author and host of The Dr. Oz Show, Mehmet C. Oz, MD, is also a professor and the vice chairman of surgery at New York Presbyterian-Columbia University and the director of the Heart Institute. For more from Oz, check out You: Raising Your Child and You: Having a Baby, both coauthored with Michael F. Roizen, MD.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.