A tantrum has well and truly landed and your toddler is in full flight. They may have hit you, siblings or other children. What do you do? What should you do?
It all depends if you have an audience i.e. other people watching. You know, eyes boring holes into your back, people tutting and the really unhelpful, 'In my day they would get a really good slap!'
A slap? Really? And violence is OK? Doesn't violence teach a toddler that hitting is OK? Surely we've moved on from such stone age techniques. I know people say, 'Oh, it never harmed me,' but really? I beg to differ. And before you ask, yes I was hit, quite a bit, right until I was 14. Did it work? Not one iota. All it shows is, that you as the parent have well and truly lost control.
Now I know in Australia it is still not illegal as long as a slap is below the shoulders and does not leave a mark. I find this hard to accept. I have a real issue with this but I am an Australian now, so I shall carry on harrumphing about that until the law changes.
So what are the alternatives to hitting or giving a slap to a child?
- Giving in is an option. If you're out in public and you have no time to deal with it, this is something you may consider. If you decide to give in do so straight away, not after a battle, otherwise a battle will always occur and escalate each time. Just be aware that if you decide on this option then you must be consistent. Mixed messages and changing tack can create insecurity, as your child is not sure about what to expect from you.
- The next option is quiet time. This involves moving your child from the situation and sitting down with them in exactly that - quiet time. No talking, no discussing what happened, nothing. So for example if your little one has had a full blown tanty in the chocolate biscuit aisle and you decide you're not giving in then you take said child by the hand and as calmly as possible leave the supermarket. Leave your trolley parked, where it is - to resume in a short while, hopefully. Sit down on a bench for around 2 to 3 minutes in quiet time. Keep eye contact to a minimum and no talking. As soon as your child is quiet then resume shopping. The next thing your child does that is 'good' or pleases you, praise your child and connect praise to the activity. For example e.g 'Thank you Emily for helping mummy put the bread into the trolley!' or 'Well done for holding onto the trolley while daddy shops!' You are 'attending' to your child. Eye contact at child level is also helpful.
If your toddler is really out of control and there are real histrionics, and they are lashing out with a full blown floor tanty, then you have a couple of options.
- The number one option is to hold your child very close to your body and contain their anger. Holding can calm a child down very quickly and helps them get used to controlling intense emotions. Initially they will naturally try and pull away. Resist and hold tighter. It will feel strange at first but you and your child may like this approach. It is an accepting way to help your child contain and experience intense emotions.
- The last chance saloon is time out. I use this when things are really out of control and potentially dangerous, either for the child or others around them. It allows the child and parent to think about what has happened and stops us as the parent from losing control and smacking our child. Time out is really only effective for two and a half to three years plus. After 5 years old other options are consequences.
I don't use a naughty chair or a naughty corner and definitely not a bedroom. In fact I never use the naughty word at all. There are many other words that can be utilised. Be careful of good and bad as well, very polarising. I'll look at all this in future blogs.
- Should be a boring place. A hallway or a laundry or bathroom for example.
- I never close the door and if I use time out it should be used straight away so the child connects the behaviour and the consequence. There is no point at all saying, 'Wait till your father gets home'. You the parent or carer, have to implement it yourself. Do not wimp out. If you need to use it your child will eventually understand why and respect you for it. Eventually children often put themselves into time out when they have misbehaved.
- I usually say to them something like this, 'You have not done as I have asked and so now you are going to go into time out.' They usually protest and I repeat the instruction, again at eye level and with good eye contact.
- Do not get involved in a discussion AT ALL. This is not negotiation time. That time has long passed.
- Take the child to the time out place. If they resist - and most do- you take them there even if it means dragging a limp body across the floor. And yes I have done this.
- If they take themselves out of it you take them back repeatedly till they have been in time out, quietly for 3 minutes for a 3 year old, 4 minutes for a 4 year old, etc. If the child takes themselves out of it and you do not replace them back into it before the time is served then the child has taken control. My record for time out is 15 times in one time out session. Yes really! After that day things got an awful lot better for the family but you have to be firm.
- Once the time is up, collect the child and give them the opportunity to come out of it. Some may be sulky and say, 'No, I'm not coming out'. That is their choice.
- Once they're out praise the first positive behaviour that you see and then the child can move on. Never discuss time out or what had happened before the time out as it can cause the anger to resurface.
Likewise, have a knowledge of the stop cock for the water. As a nurse I've seen every bit of interesting behaviour when a child is angry. Look at the environment they're going into and be prepared for everything, remember that they are VERY ANGRY. Nothing that is within reach is off limits!
Eventually you will need to use time out less. In my future toddler development series of blogs I'm going to give you the rest of the jigsaw so that you need to use these things less. I'm going to equip you, the parent, with every trick in my book and it's all very much tried and tested.
You'll find that quiet time will be used so much more than time out and you may find even quiet time is hardly needed eventually.
Hopefully, you the parent have got a few strategies now. I experienced the toughest of cases whilst working with child behaviour issues and all of these are tried and tested. And most interesting of all, these little boys and girls really looked forward to my visits. That to me really speaks volumes. Boundaries, rules and mutual respect create security and peace and that's all we're all looking for.
I saw families really learn to understand each other and start to like their children again. A bit of space can be all it takes. Battles are exhausting and achieve very little.