March 25, 2014
Just imagine for a minute. It’s Saturday afternoon in a busy shopping mall. A mother and her child enjoy an uneventful shopping excursion when suddenly, the little one decides to drop down on the floor and begins to scream and roll around. The reason for such a public display: his mother refused him something.
Perhaps you've witnessed similar scenes in the past? Or maybe you are the parent of this child, who you love and cherish? Yet, you promised yourself you would avoid bringing the toddler to the mall. But is that approach realistic? After all, you are a loving parent, and you don’t really want the child to spend his entire life in his room. So what can be done? If you want this event to become a thing of the past, you must remain mindful when outbursts occur. How do you react? What emotions do you feel?
The Key is in These Answers
Make no mistake, it is perfectly normal for a child to express dissatisfaction when he’s being denied something. I repeatedly tell my clients that the child’s job is to test his parents’ limits, whereas the parents’ job is to set limits for the child and enforce the consequence.
If your child has the habit of having public tantrums at the mall ― or just about anywhere! ― maybe it’s time to adopt a different strategy to make your family outings more enjoyable. Remember that your reactions and attitude will greatly influence the outcome. For this reason, it is important to understand why your child behaves that way. What’s in it for him when he acts that way? If the tantrum persists, this means he gains something out of it.
As a general rule, the most frequent gain is attention. Even if the attention you pay is negative (you are reprimanding the child), it still is attention. The child actually prefers to have bad attention than none at all.
Here’s what to do, concretely, in order to make your outings more enjoyable:
- Establish the rules before you leave the house (e.g. “you can either hold my hand or sit in the cart,” “you must walk right next to mommy,” “it’s okay to show me what you like, but I’m not buying this time.”) Ask your child to repeat the rules before you arrive at the mall to make sure he understands.
- If your child does not comply with one of the rules, refresh his memory using a tone that is soft but firm. Bend down to his level, look at him straight in the eyes and repeat the rule. Let him know the consequence of his choice if he decides not to comply with the instructions (e.g. “If you choose to walk, you must stay close to mommy; if you run or move away from me, I will have to hold you by the hand.”)
- If your child is still not complying with the rule, enforce the consequence. In this case, this means to hold him by the hand and resume walking. Avoid talking or lecturing him (e.g. “you didn’t listen,” “next time, you have to listen,” and so on) as this can only fuel bad attention. You have everything to win by enforcing consequences with few words and by retaining your composure as much as possible.
- If your child protests ― or worse, has an angry outburst ― I suggest that you avoid negotiations. Remember one thing: he made a choice by not complying; as a result, he must now bear the full consequences.
- When a full-blown temper tantrum occurs, you can choose to turn a deaf ear. Just ignore the protest and carry on. The idea here is to stay calm; if you lose your temper, you will fuel the child’s frustration. If you are overcome with shame (because you feel like those around are judging you), refrain from negotiating with your child; this means no “I'll buy you ice-cream if you stop crying.” I would rather recommend that you calmly go outside and mindfully ignore your child.
Finally, bear in mind that it takes from 21 to 30 days of consecutive repetitions to affect a change in behaviour. Therefore, it is important to allow the necessary time to practice, children and parents alike.
And to those people who will give you some odd looks: don’t judge! A parent may very well be applying the “turn a deaf ear” method!
Mélanie Dugas, Family Coach