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Baby Crying

We have ALL been there…you’re in the store and your child decides they want something! It could be anything…candy, an Elmo doll, …pantyhose! Really, it doesn’t matter! What matters is that it ends in a full blown TANTRUM!

Tantrums can look very different from child to child. Some involve screaming, kicking, biting or hitting! Some just involve a fussy, whiney tone of voice and throwing the head back. Others involve head banging or more!

One of the first behavioral techniques that your Developmental Specialist will likely suggest for tantrums is IGNORING. What exactly is ignoring?

Ignoring is the LACK of ATTENTION.

When we think about BEHAVIOR, STEP ONE is to ask “what purpose does this behavior serve?” During that ALL OUT tantrum in the middle of the store, what EXACTLY does your child want? To acquire something new? To gain your attention? To get out of the cart?

This can be a REALLY hard question, especially with other mothers watching you and sweet, little older ladies looking your way…

It’s NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE, but putting all of their thoughts aside…what is it that your child is communicating, and what can we do about it?

By ignoring, we take attention away from the tantrum behavior. We are completely NEUTRAL. Make your point, and make it clear, “Elmo is cute, but Elmo lives here.” Or, “Sorry. Not time for candy. First STORE, then DINNER.” Or, “We sit in the cart at the store.” And….IGNORE.

Tantrum behaviors can occur at home or in the community. They can occur in your place of worship or at your mother-in-law’s house. Either way, you are likely to run in to other opinions! Here’s the KEY! Ignore BOTH. By “both”, I am referring to both your child’s tantrum (Ugh!) and other people’s response to your child’s tantrum! Feel free to tell them that I told you to do so 😉

By giving those tantrum behaviors ATTENTION, we feed in to them. We are adding fuel to the fire! In this circumstance, “attention” can look a few different ways!

How many of us got that “LOOK” from our parents growing up? The look on their face said EVERYTHING! They didn’t need to utter a word! However, it spoke VOLUMES! And…it gave us some attention.

Whether NEGATIVE or POSITIVE, children crave attention! For a child that gets very little positive attention, negative attention will serve the exact same purpose. Think about it! If I get NO attention, then SOME is always better than NONE!” The more we talk to them, growl at them, or tell them to “Stop fussing!” or “Just wait ‘til your Daddy gets a hold of you!” …it’s ALL attention.

When we ignore, your child receives NOTHING from us. Not a LOOK and not a SOUND. They will likely make that tantrum BIGGER, thinking “Well, geez. She must not be able to hear me! This always works! I better get LOUDER!”

HAHAHA! Little do they know, you have read my blog! KEEP IGNORING!

If you must pay attention to it at all, simply say, “When you are done, I will talk to you” and THAT is THAT. At home, I am famous for, “Go to your room until you are done.” And I will be happy to escort a child to their room that does not comply. I do this because – HONESTLY – I don’t think I will be able to IGNORE! (at least while at home). Let’s face it…I’m a Mom. I’m a real person. And those behaviors can drive me BONKERS! In public, I can keep it together, but in REAL LIFE…for the good of all of us…GET YOUR ADORABLE LITTLE BEHIND TO YOUR ROOM. PRONTO!

After what we therapists call an “Extinction Burst” (getting worse before it gets better), the behavior or “tantrum” will very likely end, because it no longer works! It serves no purpose. They got no attention from us as adults. So, what CAN we do?

We can WAIT until the behavior – or tantrum – ends, and GIVE ATTENTION to the calm, sweet child that is sitting in our shopping cart, or at our feet at home. We can ask, “Are you all done?” or “Do you need a hug?” Acknowledge that it’s hard to not get what you want! “You felt frustrated.” Or “You felt mad.” These can be very powerful statements, and provide validation for our little one, that YES! I understand! It also gives the verbal child words to use next time they have that feeling!

So, before you let Grandma or Auntie buy that stuffed Elmo or that piece of candy over the full blown tantrum…stop and tell them you have talked to me!

What do your child’s tantrum behaviors look like? How have you survived?

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