Your child is growing up. Some of the jobs of children between eighteen months and three years, are: to discover the realistic limits of their own power, to learn how decision making works, and to find some ways of dealing with frustration.
Up to this point, your child hasn't had a real sense of being a separate person with the ability to choose one thing and reject another. Babies can spit out their strained vegetables and scream when you leave them with a sitter, but that isn't really choice, it's just a reaction to something unpleasant. Now, as a toddler, your child begins to see that there are choices where no question ever occurred before. Putting on shoes, eating breakfast, sitting in the car seat all used to be part of the accepted daily routine - now they take on new significance as the toddler sees them as a chance to practice being an independent, decision making person.
Just like teenagers, toddlers are torn between being "little" --wanting and needing lots of loving care, and being "big" --wanting and needing independence. Fatigue, hunger, excitement, illness or a change in routine make the problem worse by emphasizing the need to be taken care of, forcing your toddler to fight extra hard to feel "big". Temper tantrums are almost sure to follow.
As a parent it's helpful to remember that you do want your children to grow up with a feeling of being responsible for their own behavior. Tantrums are a normal and expected part of every child's development. If children are not allowed to show their anger and fear in an open way, it will come out in a disguised form such as asthma, vomiting, bedwetting, tattling, cruelty to animals or bullying. Our job is to teach our children to express their strong feelings in acceptable ways.
When temper tantrums occur we can:
Temper tantrums in public are the hardest for parents to handle. The most important advice is the most difficult to follow; don't offer your child treats in hopes of stopping the tantrum. Your toddler's first public temper tantrum will be caused by the same tension, overexcitement and fatigue that home tantrums are caused by. They should be handled the same way: avoided if possible, if not, ignored. Because other shoppers glare at the parents of a tantruming child, it's extremely tempting to try anything to get the child to stop. In no time at all, the child learns to use public tantrums to get goodies. And while children grow out of their toddler tantrums in a few months, "goodie" tantrums will continue for years if they continue to pay off.
- give the clear consistent message that "you never" can get what you want by this behavior.
- stay calm and friendly and reflect the child's feelings. "You feel really mad at me because I told you no more TV. "
- in case of biting, hitting or throwing things, gently carry your toddler to his or her crib saying, "I know you're really angry, but you may not hurt people."-when the tantrum's over, hug your toddler and say, "I'm glad you're feeling better!" Some children are comforted by a parent approaching them as soon as the tantrum begins to let up, others need to calm down alone and any interference just makes them madder.
Some ways that may help avoid public temper tantrums are;
Just like temper tantrums at home, public tantrums are sure to happen with every toddler.
- Avoiding shopping trips when your child is likely to be tired or hungry and avoiding doing more than one errand at a time.
- Hiring a sitter or trading childcare with a friend during times when your child has been especially cranky.
- Bringing along a couple of books and a favorite teddy bear or blanket when you know there'll be some waiting time.
- Explaining in simple words what the outline will involve, before you leave home; "We're going to the grocery store and you will sit in a cart, and I will push. When we are all done, you may have a dime to ride the horsie, then we'll come home".
If you have previously given your child goodies to try to control a public tantrum, the only way to change the pattern of public temper tantrums is to make it perfectly clear that you're no longer going to provide the payoff. You can expect very much worse behavior for a while, until the message sinks in. If at all possible, this would be an excellent time to leave the toddler at home with a sitter while you shop, explaining the new rules the first time you go out together again after a two or three week break. Make the first trip quite short and express your appreciation for good behavior with a hug and "I had fun at the store with you." Remember that it is particularly important not to "give in" once you have begun this plan, because behavior that pays off only occasionally is much harder to change than any other kind.
- Your child feels just terrible. "Focus on helping her cope with the distress she feels rather than thinking of your own embarrassment and impatience."
- Find a quiet place (a restroom, dressing room, or just a corner) to give the child as much privacy as possible.
- Don't physically leave your child alone in a strange place, but you can sit quietly with your back turned until the outburst is over. Another way is to hold the child gently and calmly.
- Remember that your calm and sympathetic support will help your child while scolding and roughness will only add to the tension and frustration your child feels.