Tantrums! Managing Meltdowns in Public and Private

Meltdowns, Temper Tantrums in Toddlers

Temper Tantrums in Children

Are you a Staten Island mom or dad who has lived this scenario?

Out for a lovely, peaceful afternoon at the Clove Lakes Park playground or running in quickly for a few items in Trader Joe’s and all of a sudden, BAM!, the slightest thing goes wrong and your sweet little child transforms into a whining, unreasonable lump who won’t cooperate enough to even stand up! You may see it coming—maybe you have a 20-second heads-up—but what can you do to stop it? Here’s a method from the book, Tantrums! Managing Meltdowns in Public and Private, by Dr. Thomas W. Phelan that can help head off a meltdown before it takes control:

Tantrums! Managing Meltdowns in Public and Private

When a child has a meltdown (and many children have plenty of them) whether in public or at home, parents and other child caretakers often fall into what Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D. calls “The B.A.D. Syndrome.”

“This reaction is not surprising,” observes Dr. Phelan, “since at moments like this, the adults believe they are in a crisis and must do everything in their power to end it.” WRONG!

To help parents and other caretakers in these inevitable moments, Dr. Phelan has written Tantrums! Managing Meltdowns in Public and Private. Growing out of his best-selling and extremely popular 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 (more than 1,500,000 copies sold), this new book will help adults establish and maintain reasonable control.

The B.A.D. Syndrome is made up of these reactions:

Bewildered and surprised–adults have no idea what to do

Agitated and upset–want to end crisis ASAP!

and finally the adults

Default to reasoning as the chief strategy.

Unfortunately, kids usually see adult reasoning as just a form of whimpering and pleading. At this point, every child knows he has the upper hand.

To maintain control, Dr. Phelan says, what adults need to do is to “make two new and drastic changes–one in the way they think and the other in what they do.”


What To Think

Drastic change #1 is understanding meltdowns differently. Tantrums are normal. They occur most frequently in children ages about one to five. Kids’ tantrums are usually a reaction to good parenting (setting rules and boundaries and sticking with them), not a sign that mom or dad has done something wrong.

The kids want a lollipop at 6:30 a.m.; they don’t want to go to bed at 9 p.m.; or they want to play Angry Birds right at dinnertime. Since parents can’t–and shouldn’t–give children everything the youngsters want, the kids will often protest by grumbling, whining or by throwing a tantrum. The critical issue here is what a parent does if the child “decides” to blow up.


What To Do

That brings us to drastic change #2. Surprisingly, talking and reasoning after a child starts grumbling or protesting are sure ways to bring on a meltdown! Why? Because children perceive parents’ reasons and explanations as parental whimpering-sure signs that the parent doesn’t know what he or she is doing.

Usually the kids are correct in this assessment! Often parents are, in fact, bewildered and confused by kids’ meltdowns. The older folks just want the yelling to stop. So? So, sensing weakness in mom or dad’s resolve, the kids decide to go for the gold (whatever it is they want at the time) and they blast away. Parental whimpering makes meltdowns worse. Parents need a Battle Plan that focuses on gentle but decisive actions–not words.

The absolutely necessary alternative to whimpering is “Checking Out” and utilizing the “10-Second Rule.” When a child whines or melts down after a denied request, the parent has 10 seconds to gently disengage. No talking, no eye contact, and increase physical distance as much as possible. Parents’ checking out will surprise and bewilder the little ones initially. For some children, brief consequences may also be helpful. But soon the kids will begin to realize that tantrums get them only one thing: Nothing.

Can you apply these strategies in public as well as at home? Not only can you, you must! Feeble attempts at reasoning or distraction in a restaurant or grocery store will bring on World War III in no time at all.

If you are fed up with kids’ meltdowns and all the useless yelling, arguing, begging and pleading that accompanies them, use this brief, easy-to-learn and effective approach and enjoy the results.

By Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D., an internationally renowned expert and lecturer on child discipline and Attention Deficit Disorder. He appears frequently on radio and TV and has been engaged in private practice since 1972. Dr. Phelan is a registered Ph.D. clinical psychologist and a member of the Illinois and American Psychological Associations. He is the author of the bestselling award-winning parenting book, 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 which has sold more than 1,500,000 copies. He is also the author of Surviving Your Adolescents, and numerous other books and DVDs. 

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