Subject: My two year old son
Question: My wife and I have been struggling with what to do about our son's behavior when we go out. He is almost 3. He's a handful at home, but when we go to the mall or out to eat, he throws a fit every time he doesn't get his way and its so bad that people turn around and stare at us like we're doing something to him. He also has an 8 year old sister at home. If you need more information, please let me know. I'm very concerned and feel like we're doing a horrible job parenting.
Answer: Dear Anonymous:
Please let go of those bad feelings about parenting now or this child will have your life in his hands for a very long time!
He is almost 3 and he is a handful. Well the good news is most 3 year olds are a handful. What you said was he throws a fit when he does not get his own way and that he is a handful at home as well.
Temper tantrums are normal. The reason they are normal is because children are small and you are bigger than them. They throw fits because they are trying to get their needs or wants met and learn somehow this is a good way to do so. Scream, cry, kick and eventually those big people give in and I know how long to do this behavior before they cannot take it anymore and give me what I want. I suspect someone is guilty of giving in at some point.
All is not lost and you can recover from this behavior.
First, start practicing at home. Avoid taking him in public until you have this down pat at home. When he wants something (and be reasonable about what you are denying him as sometimes parents get a bit rigid about schedules rather than routines etc) and you say no, try redirecting his attention to something else or give him a choice of an alternative. (Probably this will work better later on after we have the next step down better).
WHEN he throws a fit, tell him no, firmly and say you may scream as much as you want to then WALK away. Get away from him. DO NOT GIVE ANY MORE EYE CONTACT UNDER ANY CONDITION OR ENGAGE WITH HIM WHILE HE IS THROWING A FIT.
He gets eye contact and engagement with you ONLY after he has calmed down. (Now many parents say I cannot take the screaming. Well you better or realize his entire childhood will be at his control and this gets very expensive when they are teenagers and emotionally extortion cars, ...etc...you get the picture.) I don't care if you have to put ear plugs in your ears. Let him rip after you give him permission to do so.
Then when he wears himself out or he gives up, immediately give him eye contact and engage with him about something else (DO NOT brink up the topic of what set him off in the first place.) Give him a hug and tell him you are so proud of him for regaining control of himself. You may have to repeat this several times, do not give up.
It will get worse before it gets better. This is fundamental to behavior change. The behavior increases after there has been a change in the response patterns. It will get worse and then suddenly drop down. EXPECT the worse and rejoice when you get better than that!
Also, EVERYONE in the house needs to be retrained on how to deal with him. You have to be together on this or it will not work!
Again, you are not a bad parent. You have a strong willed child and possibly he maybe sensitive in one or more areas. Some suggestions for good parenting technique books:
"Positive Parenting," "The Highly Sensitive Child," and anything from the Nurturing Parenting series.
Feel free to call me for a one on one coaching session. Best Wishes!
M Kay Keller