September 15, 2009

Using distractions to stop temper tantrums

(Reposted from Arapahoe County Parenting Examiner)

There are countless articles on the Internet about how to manage temper tantrums. Mayo Clinic suggests ignoring the tantrums and/or removing your child from the situation. Other options I have encountered include time-outs and reasoning with our child.

However, if you're still at a loss, maybe it's time to think outside the box. When a child reaches the height of a tantrum, there is no reasoning with them. It is as if your kid has lost his/her mind. At this point, no amount of reasoning will snap them out of it. Well, maybe if you offered them ice cream to stop at that moment, but I just couldn't condone that.What the child needs is a diversion to re-focus their attention. Here are some tricks for using distractions to stop tantrums in their tracks.

Blowing Bubbles: thus far, this is the most effective tactic I have found. I first heard about this while listening to the podcast, "Mighty Mommy: Quick and Dirty Tips for Practical Parenting." As Mighty Mommy said, "Kids love bubbles. Floating bubbles will almost always distract a child." The surprise of seeing something so out of place suddenly appear in the room oftentimes gets the child's attention just long enough to try talking to him or her. Not only does it act as a surprise, it can also be a stress reliever for your child (and you). Mighty Mommy also recommends letting your child have a turn at blowing bubbles while you talk.

Hugging: if you're like me, you look at your adorable child screaming, kicking, and throwing things--and the last thing you want to do is get closer. However, if a child is feeling emotionally upset, showing that extra bit of love may help.

Taking Pictures: proceed with caution, for this could either stop the tantrum or get a shoe thrown your way. The point of this method is to show your child that their behavior is not upsetting you. In fact, it's amusing. Take a picture with your digital camera, then show the screen to them and say, "Oh my gosh! That was a big scream. I can see all the way to your stomach in this picture!" Use humor to play down a tense situation. This might not work if the child thinks you are just mocking him, though. Do this without condescension or sarcasm.

Silly Music or Sound Effects: along the lines of taking pictures, putting on goofy music (or even a sound effects library, like PacDV) can make your child see the humor. How could you possibly keep up screaming when there is background noise of a cheering crowd or even a person passing gas?

Abrupt Changes: my boyfriend's daughter threw a particularly bad tantrum one night, while he was driving. I had been following behind him in my own car when he pulled over. He called me and we decided I would take his daughter from his car and put her into mine. This sudden change startled her, as she clearly didn't expect me to show up outside her car door at that moment. She fussed until I put her in my car and continued driving. Within five minutes, she was perfectly calm and asked if she could call her dad to apologize. Success!

Using the same method over and over will lose its effectiveness. Switch them up. Also, don't forget to talk to your child after he/she calms down. Explain why their behavior was not appropriate. Teach your child that, rather than lashing out and using violence, he/she should practice deep breathing exercises or even hitting a pillow in the future.

Try out these methods and let me know how they worked for you and your child. If something works better, leave a comment and let us know.

Photo by hortongrou / Stock Xnchg

For more info:
Taming Temper Tantrums by Mighty Mommy's Quick and Dirty Tips for Practical Parenting
Temper tantrums: How to keep the peace by Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.
How to stop temper tantrums by Rachael Isaacson
Tips for preventing and managing temper tantrums by Jeana Lee Tahnk

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