Professor Tanya Byron is a qualified clinical psychologist and specialises in working with young people with mental health issues, as well as advising the UK government on children and the internet and on video games.
She is a regular public speaker, writer and has presented Little Angels, Teen Angels and The House of Tiny Tearaways for the BBC.
One of the biggest mistakes we make as parents, because we're so busy, is to leave our children alone when they're behaving nicely and say nothing to them. When their behaviour gets out of control, we come in with guns blazing and they get tons of our time and tons of our attention. If we do that often enough, what children learn is that the way to get more of mummy or more of daddy is to start beating each other up, because there is no pay-off or reward for sitting and playing nicely.
Ignore the behaviour you don't want. Instead emphasise the positive with cuddles, kisses, praise and tell them all the things they need to hear in order for them to understand they will get attention for doing things nicely. Conversely, more chat and attention when your little one is behaving badly will make things worse.
First you need to understand the signs that the behaviour is escalating out of control. Next, be aware of possible triggers to potential meltdown. Then, as soon as you feel the temper rising, distract them onto something else: a funny song, story, or "did you see that green squirrel with orange stripes just fly past the window?"
You may sound a bit odd but if it takes the child's attention away from destructive behaviour who cares?!
If distraction is not effective and tantrums begin, try and see if you can ignore the behaviour. Ignoring gives the message that the behaviour gets no reward and if you use this technique alongside praising every lovely behaviour your children will get a very powerful message. Ignoring can be very difficult if you are out in public but for all those tutting bystanders as you struggle with your child having a tantrum in the supermarket, remember they've probably been there themselves - or they're fibbing!
For extreme bad behaviour, as a last resort you can use a technique called Time Out, where you put your child in a room and ignore them.
First ask your child to stop misbehaving. If that doesn't work ask again, but more firmly. This gives the child two chances to change his or her behaviour, and if they do, you praise them. If they refuse to stop the behaviour, or if the tantrum escalates, you go for Time Out.
Take your child firmly but with no attention to a safe place where you can leave them for a one minute for each year of their life (ie three minutes for a three-year-old) up to a maximum of five minutes. You could try putting them on a stair or a chair, but if your child won't sit still where you've put them you may need to put them in a room and shut the door. This is an extreme form of ignoring. You should not talk to your child through the door or give them any other form of attention during the Time Out period.
This technique will allow everyone to calm down and prevent smacking occurring. It also very powerfully tells your child that their behaviour is completely unacceptable. Once the Time Out period is over explain to your child why they were Timed Out and then move on and praise them at the first opportunity. Do not overuse this technique and try to ignore as much as you can.
Part 2: Tantrums, Rewards & Going Out >>