The best way to prevent tantrums is to know what triggers them. Lots of kids get irritable when they're hungry or tired, but those aren't the only situations that will spark meltdowns. Psychologist Jed Baker, the author of No More Meltdowns, offers a guided tour of the six most-common triggers, with tips on avoiding each tearjerker:
1. Biological issues
Some kids become especially irritable when they're hungry or tired. That's why it's always a good idea to take favorite snacks along on outings; you can even pull them out when waiting for meals at restaurants. To keep children from becoming too tired, build some rest time into your plans and don't overschedule their days. Last, consider what kind of stimulation your kids can tolerate - some like loud amusement parks, while others need quieter activities to keep them happy.
2. Lack of structure
Having nothing to do for too long a period of time is a recipe for trouble. Kids will create their own structure if you don't, and this sometimes means arguing with each other or otherwise acting out. Create a "Things To Do" box with puzzles, games, art projects, books, videos and other calming activities for the downtime between scheduled activities. Take smaller versions along on long car rides or for destinations with long waiting lines.
Many kids find it stressful to be told to do homework or chores, or to try a new activity. So when it's time for them to do their chores or homework, make a game of it, with rewards for completing each part of the task. If kids are afraid to try something new, don't force them - instead help them gradually overcome reluctance by letting them watch the activity first, then asking them to participate for a very short period of time.
Some kids melt down when they don't get what they want, or have to stop doing something fun. It is easier for kids to wait for what they want if they know exactly when they'll get it, so keep a timer or clock on hand. If you know you are going someplace where they will want something they cannot have, tell them ahead of time; suggest that if they get through the outing without complaint, they can get something else. When kids resist stopping a fun activity, try to make the transition easier. For example, as a reward for leaving the playground and going home without incident, stop for a small ice-cream treat.
5. Threats to self-esteem
Some kids are perfectionists and cannot stand making a mistake on their homework or losing a board game. Remind such kids before an activity that you are more interested in their efforts or their sportsmanship than whether they do things perfectly. Promise rewards if they don't get upset when they lose a game.
6. Unmet wishes for attention
Some children fall apart when adults ignore them to attend to siblings or other adults. Children can wait for your attention more successfully when they know exactly when they will get it - again, a timer or clock can be helpful. If you are occupied with something important, ask them to stay near you while they wait; often, that closeness is enough to satisfy them for a while. Also, teach kids the correct ways to ask for attention, and to sit patiently rather than getting mad or acting out. If the kids ask nicely to play, then give them the attention they crave. After all, this is the most valuable gift you can offer them.
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