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Taming tantrums: 3 secret tips for parents

POSTED: July 4, 2014 3:00 p.m.
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You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance. Franklin P. Adams

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You've respected nap time, and you've planned out your meal schedule with military-like precision. However, sometimes even the best planning fails and your little angel turns on you, pulling a full-blown tantrum in public. You can feel every person in the room staring directly at you, and you assume they're all wondering the same thing, "Why can't she control her kid?"

Fortunately, while tantrums seem embarrassing, we've all been there, and every parent understands that sometimes kids pick the most inopportune times to lose it. That doesn't mean that you have to just stand there and watch your child go nuclear, however. Here are 3 secret ways to diffuse even the biggest tantrums.

Create a distraction
Fill your purse or diaper bag full of fun, little-seen items before leaving the house. When you pull out a new or long-forgotten toy, book, or snack during a tantrum, your child's distraction gives you an opportunity to stop the tantrum in its tracks. Once your child snaps out of the bad mood, then you can calmly discuss the situation. Get down on the child's level and, with a clear, firm voice, tell your child what behavior you expect to see from her. No one is suggesting letting your child get away with the bad behavior, but trying to scream over a screaming toddler doesn't do anyone any good. Wait until the storm has passed before you address appropriate public behavior.

Start laughing
When your child starts acting up, he is expecting a negative reaction from you. Anytime you respond to a tantrum in an unexpected way, the child's brain re-evaluates the situation, essentially switching a child's cognition away from the emotional brain and into the rational brain. During a tantrum, your goal is to get the child to start thinking logically once again. Even a toddler can think logically if given the right set of circumstances. Laughing during a tantrum is often the jumpstart a child's brain needs to turn down the emotion and listen to you again.

Another benefit of laughing is that others will see that you are in control. If you're worried about what others think, laughing gives others the idea that you are in on the behavior and unconcerned about the situation. Flipping out will only make you look incompetent and impulsive.

Set up a system of incentives, not bribes
Bribes have a bad reputation in parenting, and for good reason. Bribing for good behavior primes your child for future meltdowns. After all, kids only continue with what works. However, you can set up an incentive system to use as leverage against a future tantrum. If you promise your child in the morning that you'll go to the park after lunch, threaten to take away the promised reward during a tantrum. Even if you haven't pre-selected an incentive, you can always push back bedtime or take away treats to diffuse a tantrum.

However, don't cross the line between taking away incentives and threatening. Never threaten a child with physical harm or punitive punishment. Your best bet for fostering cooperation is mutual trust and respect. You can instill a sense of respect without scaring your child into submission.

Too many parents fear public temper tantrums, which is partly why they're so common. Children sense your insecurity, so having a solid plan to deal with a tantrum keeps you calm and leaves you in control. The next time you're faced with a screaming child, try out one of these three secret techniques and see how it works for you. Keep trying things until you find something that works for your child, and rest assured, you will find something that works.

Heather Hale is a fourth-generation Montanan, mom to two crazy boys, and wife to one amazing husband. You can learn more about her eco-conscious lifestyle at moderatelycrunchy.com.

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