(BPT) – One minute your toddler is giggling with delight and in the next, he’s having an uncontrollable meltdown. Overwhelmed with emotion, he won’t listen to reason. As a caregiver, you feel embarrassed, helpless and upset. What do you do?
“It’s easy to become overwhelmed when dealing with tantrums,” says Dr. Tom Reimers, child psychologist and author of “Help! There’s a Toddler in the House.” “Fortunately, this common behavioral problem can often be corrected if you avoid common mistakes and take positive action.”
Dr. Reimers is a childhood expert for Boys Town. He contributes to the Boys Town Toddler email series that provides parents advice on how to handle different situations. It also serves as a teaching activity to help implement the advice and skills that parents and children can work on together. Visit www.boystown.org to sign up for free.
Through his extensive experience, Dr. Reimers notes the top five, most common caregiver mistakes when kids have tantrums:
Mistake #1. Ignoring Tantrum Precursors
Tantrums often feel like they come out of nowhere, and while some are unavoidable, others can be diverted by paying attention to your child’s specific cues. You may notice your child acting bored, whining, fidgeting, teasing and ignoring you. These are common clues that a meltdown may be coming soon.
Being a parent can feel overwhelming. Try to be thoughtful when watching your child’s unique demeanor. If you see these cues, you can take action to avoid a tantrum such as taking a break from whatever you’re doing or diverting your child’s attention to a new activity.
Mistake #2. Starting to Count Down
A common way to handle tantrums is to count down; stating that if the behavior doesn’t stop by the count of three, the child is going to be in trouble. The problem is that this threat doesn’t correct the behavior in a manner that a small child can understand and it often leads to a power struggle, making the situation much worse.
The best approach is to walk away or resist reacting to the tantrum. Remember, your child is acting out of frustration, and when she is small, it’s a difficult emotion to master. You must model the behavior you expect of her in public and at home. Once the tantrum is over and emotions have leveled, you have a better opportunity for talking about expectations.
Mistake #3. Rewarding Bad Behavior
Tantrums can happen at the most inconvenient times. In order to get your child to act differently in the shortest time possible, you beg him to stop by offering a treat or a sticker. Unfortunately, this sends a message to your child that bad behavior is rewarded and can make dealing with future tantrums even more difficult.
Rather than rewarding bad behavior, make sure to focus on good behavior. Praising the times when she listens, follows directions, uses her manners, etc. reinforces the good. You may opt for an occasional sticker or treat as a reward if you’d like, but a “good job” and high-five from Mom or Dad is often enough to make tots grin from ear to ear.
Mistake #4. Being Unprepared With Activities
Life is busy. A long trip to the grocery store or another errand is often unavoidable. Many parents just power through these trips and figure their young children just have to deal with it. By the end, your toddler is having a tantrum in the checkout lane.
Remember, children have short attention spans. They need things to keep them occupied, so it’s important to plan ahead and bring along activities. He’ll be captivated by a new library book, a small toy car, a flashlight, stickers or coloring book long enough for you to complete your errand and keep your sanity. If he gets bored, play games while you’re out such as spotting colors or counting items.
Mistake #5. Forgetting the Tantrum After It’s Over
Tantrums are terrible for both child and caregiver. Once one has passed, it’s tempting to move on and forget it ever happened. However, doing this means you don’t get the opportunity to talk to your child about the situation when she is calm.
A better strategy once things have settled is to talk with your child directly without distractions and state clearly that tantrum behavior is unacceptable. Then, help your child learn age-appropriate coping mechanisms, like taking a deep breath and counting to 10 or hugging herself tightly. Practice these methods daily and make them a habit.
“Remember, the toddler phase is short,” says Dr. Reimers. “This too shall pass. In the meantime, these strategies will help tremendously.”