Taming Tantrums with Positive Discipline

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When your child throws a tantrum at home, it’s one thing. When it happens in public, it’s a whole other ordeal that really grates your nerves. All eyes are on you. You feel like you’re being judged by complete strangers. Experts say to keep your attention on your child and don’t worry about what other people think when your little darling turns into a little demon.

In a situation where a store is involved — whether it’s the supermarket or a shopping mall — set limits beforehand. “Prevention is key,” says George Scarlett, Ph.D., a child development expert and author of Trouble in the Classroom: Managing Behavior Problems in Young Children (Jossey-Bass, 1997). Scarlett says to spell everything out to your child before heading out of the house. For instance, if you’re planning a trip to the mall, go ahead and tell your child there is a toy store there and it’s OK to go in and look, but “we can’t buy anything today.”

If a public meltdown occurs anyway, what’s the best way to handle it? “Get the stage lights off the child, and bring the curtain down,” says Kyle Pruett, M.D., clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine and author of Partnership Parenting: How Men and Women Parent Differently — Why it Helps Your Kids and Can Strengthen Your Marriage (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2009). Pruett suggests removing the child from the store — even if he’s kicking and screaming — and having minimal interaction until he calms down. “Keep your words and chastisement to a minimum; he won’t hear you anyway.” Once the tantrum is over, take the opportunity to discuss the situation with your child.

Whether in private or public, taking a positive approach to disciplining your child is part of good parenting. The American Academy of Pediatrics‘ suggestions for positive discipline comes with a three-tiered approach:

1) Establish a supporting and loving relationship with your child.
2) Use positive reinforcement to increase the behavior your desire from your child.
3) If discipline becomes necessary, do not spank or use other physical punishments. That only teaches aggressive behavior and is ineffective if often used. Instead, for young kids, use time outs; for older children, remove favorite privileges.

The American Humane Association offers several tips to keep in mind to help parents take a positive discipline approach:

• Discipline with love
• Listen and communicate
• Focus on the behavior, not the child
• Respond immediately
• Relate the discipline to the offending behavior in duration and severity
• Be realistic
• Remain calm
• Be fair
• Do not harm or injure
• Set boundaries
• Make it a learning opportunity
• Be consistent
• Be creative
• Develop rules and expectations in advance
• Use time outs
• Reward or praise desirable behaviors
• Model desired behavior
• Encourage the child’s cooperation and understanding
• Develop behavioral contracts and incentive charts


Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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