October 12, 2016

Tempering a Tantrum

When I was on maternity leave for my daughter a few years ago, I felt it was also important to bond with my 2-year-old son so that he didn’t feel left out.
So instead of holing up in the house, I decided to take him to story times, art classes, indoor play areas and anywhere else I thought might interest him.
On one memorable occasion, we went to a story time at Barnes and Noble. It was a sunny February day, the story was great, and my son seemed to really dig the energy of the storyteller. Even more interesting to him though, was the Thomas the Train set in the kids’ area. He loved playing with it and probably could have stayed for countless hours.
After a time though, we needed to go. And what started as the perfect day quickly became a major fit-throwing episode.
I initially tried reasoning; I nicely and politely stated more than once that it was time to go, and Mommy would not tolerate his throwing a fit. But desperation set in, and right before that moment of no-return anger, I literally tossed my son under my arm and grabbed the stroller, scooting it down the elevator, across the sales floor and out the front door while he screamed.
This “pick-up-and-go” tactic is a well-known parenting tool: When your child is out of control, react nicely first, and when they don’t listen, remove them from the situation. It shouldn’t be considered giving in, and in fact should teach them that there will be consequences for not listening to a parent. I know it works, but somehow I have been forgetting to use it recently.
A few weeks ago my children acted up in the grocery store. Wait, let me rephrase that: They acted like wild, crazed animals in the grocery store. They were OK until we got into the checkout lane, where they unleashed the crazed-animal scene. I tried my menacing mom growl and stink-eye, however my children continued down their path of insanity until I very loudly snapped.
I am certain the checkout gal, who knows me as a regular, now thinks I am a terrible parent. But I was simply out of patience and worn down, which resulted in my not-so-perfect parenting moment. I wanted out of the store, but I did not remove myself or my children from the situation, even after warning them. What I should have done is left, despite being in the checkout lane.
I’m amazed it took me weeks to realize this, but it seems my children now know they can act up in public because I have been letting them slide. When we’re in public, I don’t want others to judge my parenting. Ironically, when my kids act up and I do nothing, I am the one to look bad because I appear to not be “parenting.”
These are scenarios almost every parent has had to face at one time or another. While lamenting over the grocery store scene, I was reminded of some expert tips to help parents deal with tantrums in public.
Schedule accordingly: If you know your child needs a nap or otherwise becomes cranky at specific times of the day, try scheduling around those times.
Extraction is best: If children misbehave, no matter what is happening or where they are, be willing to remove them from the situation. It shouldn’t matter how costly or fun it is; leaving will help them understand who is the parent and whose word is law. Give a clear warning in a calm yet firm voice and explain exactly what will happen if the behavior continues. Then - and here’s the important part - follow through with your action. It’s tough when a child leaves kicking and screaming, but in the long run it will make life easier.
Set clear rules, and reward the positive: Parents need to define expectations at an understandable level, and repeat these laws faithfully. Parents can also use positive rewards — anything from a favorite activity to a special dessert. Rewards of praise or small treats can also be handed out on the spot for good behavior.
What parenting tools have you used to get your children to behave? Have they worked? How have you changed these tactics as your children age?

First published on annarbor.com in 2010.