No one wants to be the parent with the red-faced toddler screaming and crying at the grocery checkout because he can’t have Gummi Bears. But when parents attempt to calm kids down, they often get it wrong, according to experts. Here are the most common mistakes parents make — and what works instead.
Tantrum Mistake No. 1: You try reasoning with him.
Parents tend to keep talking and explaining to their overwrought child why he can’t have the thing he wants. “He’s emotionally wound up and incapable at that moment of being logical,” says Susan Stiffelman, a family therapist and author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. “Trying to make him think rationally will actually make him feel more alone.”
Tantrum Tamer: Stop talking. After your initial explanation, don’t say another word to him, suggests Stiffelman. Once he realizes his tantrum isn’t getting him anywhere, he’ll calm down.
Tantrum Mistake No. 2: You’re unclear about the rule.
If you tell your child “No” but then start hedging as his tantrum escalates, he’ll sense your hesitation and keep at it until you give in, says Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12.
Tantrum Tamer: Spell it out and stick to it. “If you’re clear and consistent, pretty soon the kid will understand that when you say “No,” you mean no, and if he pushes, nothing good will come of it.”
Tantrum Mistake No. 3: You’re not empathetic.
It’s hard to have sympathy in the middle of a meltdown, but not acknowledging that your child is upset makes him feel that his frustrations are going unheard, according to Stiffelman.
Tantrum Tamer: Show you understand.
If your child goes ballistic when the baby sitter arrives, say something like: “It doesn’t seem fair that you can’t go out to dinner with Mommy and Daddy tonight.” But don’t add an explanation; that will make things worse. Expecting a young child to understand is unrealistic because … he won’t.
Tantrum Mistake No. 4: You lose your temper.
One out-of-control person is enough. What’s more, “you’re modeling bad temper to your child,” says Phelan. “Although sometimes you can intimidate him into quieting down, this will only give you a false sense of control.”
Tantrum Tamer: Keep quiet. Remain calm and say nothing. And if you’re in a public place, leave as quickly as possible.
Tantrum Mistake No. 5: You ignore his needs.
You’re asking for trouble if you’re not tuned in to what sets him off, according to Stiffelman. You can avoid many meltdowns by taking his needs into account.
Tantrum Tamer: Think ahead.
If your child frequently has a meltdown when you two spend the entire morning running from store to store doing errands, adjust your schedule accordingly. Not playing to your child’s tantrums helps restore calm — for both of you.
And while you can’t always avoid meltdowns, having smart strategies lets you keep them from escalating and stop them sooner.