“Whenever David doesn’t get his way he throws himself on the
floor, screams, kicks and cries incessantly. What can we do to
help him overcome this behavior?”
TIP: What is
David getting out of this behavior. First make sure that you are
not rewarding this type of behavior, positively or negatively
because both will help keep it alive. If you eventually give in
to this behavior by changing your initial decision (not letting
David go out to play, refusing David a cookie), David has
learned that tantrums work. Hence, when David wants his way he
may think, “ a good tantrum just may get me that candy bar, it
got me out of bedtime last night.” Negative attention (yelling,
threatening, ridicule, spanking) seldom changes the behavior.
Getting you upset may be just as rewarding as giving in to their
demands. So again, make sure you are not unintentionally
rewarding David for this behavior.
TIP: Be proactive.
Think of the situations that invite David's meltdowns and head
them off before they happen. Do questions that require a yes or
no answer provoke a tantrum? Instead of "Do you want a peanut
butter and jelly sandwich for lunch David?" try "It is time for
lunch David. Would you like PB&J or macaroni and cheese?"
Advance notice may help as well. "We will be leaving Grandma's
in ten minutes. Get everything you want to take care of
completed before we go." Is David more likely to throw a tantrum
when he is tired? Then you may want to provide an opportunity
for him to take a nap.
TIP: Consequence. Be sure to tie
the consequence back to the misbehavior. “David, remember the
last time we went to the store and you threw a fit because I
wouldn’t let you have that Power Ranger? Remember how you kept
putting it in the cart and screaming that you wanted it? Well I
am going shopping but you won’t be going with me. I just don’t
feel like dealing with that kind of behavior today. Mrs. Hamblin
is here to watch you until I get back. Try to make the best of
it. Love ya, bye.”
TIP: Move David
to a different location. The key is for you to model taking care
of yourself. Your ears hurt when you hear David’s screaming. You
may not be able to control whether or not David has a tantrum,
but you can control where he does it. “Tantrums are for the
bedroom. Let’s go.” You may want to give him a choice. “Where do
you want to be until you can get that under control, the
bathroom or the laundry room? If David can’t decide quickly, you
decide for him. Come on out when there is no more crying and
TIP: Notice the exceptions. Point out the
times when David may have thrown a tantrum but did not. “I
really appreciate how you came in the house when I asked without
throwing a “fit”. You should feel good about being able to do
TIP: Give the behavior a name. This will help
externalize the problem, which is to say, it separates the
person from the problem. It helps David and the family view the
behavior as the problem and not him (the problem is the
problem). For example, you could call David’s tantrums the “uglies”.
This can help put David and you on the same side in the battle
against the “uglies”. Questions like “can you think of a time
when you have beat the “uglies” David? How did you do it? or how
do you know when the “uglies” are coming? What can you do to
stop them? ”David may enjoy the imagery of conquering the
“uglies” and this can give David a sense of control over the
TIP: Acknowledge his feelings. This aligns you
with David and sets the stage for
him to begin to work
through his own problems.
David: “Dad, can I get this
Dad: “No, David I am not buying toys
David: Eyebrows coming closer together and lip
starting to pucker. “But it is the last one I need and I will
have them all.”
Dad: “Not today David.”
Screaming and crying. “You never get me anything I ask for. You
don’t love me.”
Dad: Acknowledging David’s feelings.
“You must feel really sad about not being able to get the Power
Ranger. I know I sometimes feel bad when I can’t get what I
David: Sniffling. “Yea, I really want it.”
Dad: “Tell you what. (Taking pen and paper out of planner) I
will write this down as “things David wants”.”
You can later use this list for surprises or
gifts for special occasions.
TIP: Tell David what you
are going to do. “David, I’ll come back down stairs when you get
that under control” or “I will be happy to talk to you when you
are not crying and you voice is soft like mine.”
Ignore the tantrum. If your have the will power to outright
ignore the behavior you must remember that it may get worse
before it gets better. That is, when David’s behavior doesn’t
produce the desired results, he may turn it up a notch to see if
a higher intensity level gets a response. Be careful. If you
give in and respond to the higher level or longer duration,
David learns that is how intense or how long he needs to tantrum
from now on in order to receive attention.
TIP: Direct David
toward a different way of expressing how he feels. “David, here
is some paper and crayons. How about drawing how you are feeling
right now.” This is a positive, less annoying way of
communicating how he feels.
About the Author:
Destry Maycock has over eleven years experience working with
children and families as a professional social worker. Destry
has helped hundreds of parents solve a variety of parenting
challenges and strengthen their relationships with their
children. Destry enjoys developing products that help parents.
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