If you’re concerned about temper tantrums, there are a number of approaches you can try, including prevention. Since you know your child’s wants, you can guess which situations are likely to cause tantrums and plan ahead for these times.
For example, when you anticipate a struggle at the candy counter or when shopping at a mall, carry a few small toys, some juice, or crackers with you. If the situation becomes tense, use these to distract your child. You also can set limits for your three or four-year-old: “We’re only looking today,” or, “I’m only buying you one thing.” But remember when you’re in the store and your child sees something he wants, it’ll be hard for him to remember your limits, and hard for him to “only look” and not buy.
It’s also helpful to pay attention to your child’s interests. Allow him to touch, look at, and explore things of interest, even if only for a few minutes. Under your supervision, allow your child to use the computer, take some food out of the refrigerator, pour the dog food into the bowl, water the plants, turn the light switch on, look around the hardware store, touch hanging belts in a store. This will help him feel a sense of satisfaction and he’ll have fewer tantrums.
There’s another technique that may prevent a tantrum: compromise. You can tell your child, “I won’t buy candy, but I’ll buy you a pretzel.” This and the other prevention methods sometimes work well, but at times your child may have a temper tantrum in spite of your efforts. If this happens, you’ll have to decide how to respond. Most likely your reaction will vary with the situation, depending on where you are and whom you’re with. But your choices will be the same, you can meet your child’s demand, distract him, or let him have the tantrum.
You may choose to meet his demand because you realize that it’s not so unreasonable after all. Perhaps you were being too rigid when you first rejected his request. Or perhaps you feel that saying “no” is not worth the struggle or tantrum. If you give in, don’t worry about whether your child will take advantage or remember that you gave in; your child reacts differently to each new moment and experience.
You can also try distracting him. Remind him about a recent pleasurable experience, point out something interesting, or talk about something fun that will happen soon. You may be surprised at how effective distraction can be in defusing a conflict.
Finally, you may end up choosing to let the tantrum run its course. Although coping can be hard, if you wait calmly and continue to try to distract him, your child will soon quiet down.
Tantrums are difficult for you and your young child. Once he outgrows that urgent need to have everything now, there will be far fewer tantrums to struggle with. Learning to deal with tantrums in a patient, reasonable manner that is respectful of your child’s development, interests, and temperament, is good practice and can pave the way to smoother parenting and a happier, calmer child.