Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tantrums: What To Do?

Every parent of a preschooler has seen their child throw a tantrum. There's a lot of advice out there in the psychological community about how to avoid tantrums and how to deal with them when they happen. I was reading a very popular parenting website today and came across this following suggestion:

Frustration is also a big tantrum-trigger. If you know your preschooler is going to insist on visiting the pet store when you go to the mall, make sure you have time to do it, or think twice about the trip.

Okay, who's the parent here? Since when should we let our 3-yr-old dictate our shopping agenda? This kind of attitude is one reason why kids have tantrums in the first place. When we plan our activities around what we think our child will like, or what we think will make them stay happy, we are teaching them that the most important thing in the world is what THEY want. That's not parenting. That's furthering their self-centeredness and selfishness.

Our job as parents is not to constantly entertain and satisfy every desire of our children's hearts. Sometimes our kids have to just stand in line calmly at the post office. Or wait patiently while mom has a conversation with a friend. Or turn off the TV and spend quiet time with a book. Or wait 30 minutes for dinner time without whining for something to eat. It builds character. It builds a submissive spirit. It also builds an empathy towards other people's needs.

When our kids do throw tantrums because they don't get their way, it's important to deal with them calmly and quickly. I don't believe in ignoring. My experience both personally and professionally has shown me that in most cases when I choose to ignore tantrums, the child will magnify the negative behaviors until I can't help but do something. (And by that time, I'm a lot madder and the kid is a lot more upset).

The Bible verse that we discuss when Grace is fussing is Phillippians 2:14-15:

"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure children of God..."

When Grace first starts fussing or arguing, I will remind her of God's command to do everything without complaining. If she continues, we administer biblical discipline.

What we have found is that over time (and a lot of loving discipline), Grace is gaining more and more self-control. Especially as she matures, we find that often it just takes a reminder and she can turn around her behavior. Of course, there are days that I'm ready to pull my hair out because she chooses to be unusually fussy. But we get through them, and most of the time her behavior gets remarkably better over the next few days because we do our best to be consistent during the hard times.

Regardless of where we are or what we are doing, it's important to avoid giving into our kid's whining. They need to know that we are in charge and that throwing a fit will only result in discipline. It's a challenge because sometimes it's just easier to give them the lollipop they are begging for in the checkout lane! However, in the long run, we're setting ourselves up for many more battles if we constantly give in to their whims.

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