by Courtney Drake-McDonough
The problem: Your child is having a full-on tantrum—the screaming and arm-flailing kind that involves parking himself in the middle of the store aisle. Now what?
The Expert: Patrick W. Romani, Ph.D., BCBA-D, assistant professor at the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus and licensed psychologist at the Pediatric Mental Health Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
The solution: Stay calm. Less is often more when managing a child’s tantrum. Decrease discussion and your own negative reactions and follow through with expectations. For example, if your child wants a toy and refuses to transition from the toy aisle when it’s time to check-out, briefly tell them a positive thing they can look forward to when they get home, such as a snack, and then walk to the end of the aisle to wait for them. When your child gets up to follow you, provide praise to let them know they are making a good decision. In this scenario, you followed through with the expectation to leave the store without buying a toy for your child. Because of this response to their tantrum, it’s less likely that your child will act out in this way again. They will have learned that tantrum behaviors do not result in your attention or access to toys.
Going forward, be prepared with a combination of proactive and reactive strategies to manage tantrum behavior. One proactive strategy is providing a “heads up” about changes to the usual routine. For example, some children don’t like waiting at their sibling’s baseball practice. In these cases, give your child a written or visual (e.g. picture) schedule that shows them that they will first go to baseball practice for 15 minutes and then earn a preferred activity (e.g. time to read a book with their parent). Providing forewarning and then describing the positive event that will follow often helps decrease tantrum behavior.