We've all been there, at least once, standing in isle three of the check-out line at the grocery store when it happens. All eyes are on you, the "bad parent," face flooding with embarrassment, as you stand paralyzed watching your toddler quickly transform into a terrifying tyrant.
The screeching voice, the flailing arms, the kicking legs, and the eyes erupting with tears. The demands for the candy get louder and louder. Ah yes, how you wished the fierce steam coming out of your child's ears would rapidly escort you to a place far, far away.
Quickly you are taken back to reality, knowing that you're stuck in the moment - in the spotlight of eyes watching. You sigh and think to yourself, "life as the mom of a toddler."
You try hard to weather the increasingly intense storm, hoping that it will end as quickly as it started. But the pressure is on; people are watching - and waiting to see what you will do next. You reluctantly give in and hand over the candy - feeling the relief as if you were a hostage released from bondage. The redness from your face fades and the terrifying tyrant transforms back to your tame toddler.
The storm had passed, and it indeed ended as quickly as it started - on his terms.
If you are a parent you can certainly identify with the scenario above. Even if your not, I'm sure you've seen it - most likely from a closer view than you would have liked.
As a nanny with over a decade of experience in caring for multiples, I've pretty much seen it all - from both sides. I've been the beat red with embarrassment caregiver and the overly analytical set of eyes watching.
I've found that being the nanny in these situations, has always given me a bit of an advantage. Having an objective eye that is unclouded from sleepless nights and umbilical cord emotions, my tolerance level for tantrums is quite high, because I learned the lesson early on - saying yes in the moment may seem easier, but in the long run it's really not.
So if your child is in the tantrum throwing stage, with perseverance and a plan of action you can tame those tantrums in no time.
Know the three step Plan Of Action - Prepare, Observe, Activate.
Prepare your child in advance outlining where you'll be going, what you'll be doing and how you expect him to behave.
"We're going to the grocery store to pick up something for dinner. No treats today. Remember the store rules - use good listening skills and indoor voices."
Observe his behavior.
Trying to schedule errands or activities when your child is well rested, fed and has just gone to the toilet, always works best, but for all of us real life moms and caregivers who get things done when time allows, take note of the subtle changes in your child's behavior.
"Your rubbing your eyes, are you getting sleepy?"
"You're moving around a bit, do you need to use the toilet?"
"Hmm, it's almost lunch time, are you getting hungry?"
Activate. Be prepared and begin to take action.
Is he getting irritable? Distract him by asking him to "Spy" the items you are looking for.
Is it his naptime? Move a little faster, just get the necessities and try to wrap up the trip.
Is he hungry? Have a healthy snack on hand, ready to offer it as an alternative to his in-store request.
This three step plan should head off most tantrums, but if you find yourself in the eye of a full blown tantrum storm- ignore, ignore, ignore.
Make sure your child is in a safe place, then turn your back and ignore the behavior until it stops. If he may endanger himself with head banging, (or other dangerous behaviors) or simply won't calm down, pick him up, put him in a safe place - car seat, crib, stroller- and sit quietly and ignore the behavior until it ends.
Clearly, giving into a tantrum seems much easier in the moment. You get immediate results- the tantrum stops. Why? Because the child got what he wanted. It ended on his terms. But what happens next time he isn't getting his way?
Just like the old song says: "Same song, same verse - a little bit louder and a whole lot worse."
The cries get louder, the kicks get stronger and the demands get harsher until you finally break and he gets his way.
If you want the tantrums to end on your terms, stand strong and always be ready to prepare, observe and activate. Giving in "in the moment" may seem easier, but in the long run, you're prolonging the inevitable (and invaluable) lesson of teaching your toddler the reality of whose terms he's really on.