The Family Project: Tantrums
Q. My four-year-old throws tantrums every time we have to go somewhere. I dread the holidays because it is such a battle to get him to leave his grandparents’ house, a store or a party. What can the panel suggest I do to make the transitions peaceful?
It is not unusual for a four-year-old to have difficulty making transitions, according to panel member Denise Continenza. “Plus, it could just be his temperament to get focused and very involved in what he is doing, so it becomes difficult for him to make changes. If mom knows that it is going to be an issue, she should plan ahead.”
That planning can involve finding ways to prepare the boy before it is time to leave. One way, panel member Chad Stefanyak suggested, would be to tell him, “We are going to leave in 10 minutes, so pick up your toys,” then, in a few minutes later say, “We are going to leave in five minutes so let’s put on your coat.” Try to make the departure entertaining and even a learning experience, panel member Mike Daniels added. The child can learn numbers, for example, by putting the timer on your phone and setting it in front of the child so he can see the numbers running down, Daniels explained.
The parent could also have a special toy or something the boy enjoys waiting for him in the car, panel member Wanda Mercado-Arroyo said. She explained, however, that four-year-olds can become accustomed to getting away with anything they want, so they need structure and they need discipline. “If you tell the child you are leaving, be consistent. Stick to the point, but don’t raise your voice. Remain calm.” “The parent has to look at how she approaches the situation because the tantrums have somehow rewarded him by giving him extra time. They achieved a purpose,” Stefanyak said.
“When he does transition well, and doesn’t have a tantrum,” Continenza said, “the parent should be rewarding that.” It doesn’t have to be a toy or something tangible all the time, but a verbal recognition that the child has behaved well. “Wow, you were so good when we left grandma’s house tonight.” Daniels said it sounded like the parent always is expecting a tantrum. “She goes into the transition with dread, and the child might pick up on that and wonder what is wrong. That might be a trigger for the tantrum.” Panel member Pam Wallace said the parent needs to engage everyone involved, grandparents, spouse, friends, in the steps to be taken to help in the transitioning. “The other point I would make is that the parent should pay attention to where the child is transitioning from,” Daniels said. “There may be different plans to deal with leaving a store, or party or grandparents’ home.” The panelists concluded with these words of comfort: “It’s temporary.”
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, School Counselor; Wanda Mercado-Arroyo; Denise Continenza, Extension Educator, Food, Families and Health, Penn State Extension; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, CTS, and Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh County Children and Youth Casework Supervisor.
Have a question? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Family Project weekly column is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.