Prevent Toddler Temper Tantrums and More with This “Insider” Trick.
By Chris Thompson, author, parenting expert and certified NLP practitioner
You know how kids can get themselves worked up over NOTHING sometimes? We witness different problems for different age groups, obviously. Your two year old toddler might not like the color of his sippy cup. Your four year old might go crazy over the socks you picked out for him.
I see so many parents trying to use logic to explain things to their kids, hoping that it prevents a tantrum, or stops one that is in progress.
Using logic to disarm a toddler tantrum is a mistake. Remember that behavior is driven by emotion, not logic. So to solve behavior issues, you need to change a child’s emotional state first. Then, the behavior change follows instantly.
Notice the Warning Signs
When a toddler or child turns from happy to upset, there are usually warning signs. You can usually see the negative state building within the child. Often, the warning signs come in the form of a child who seems frustrated, whiny, or defiant.
If you see this happening, you need to take control fast. You need to get inside your child’s mind and replace his negative emotional state with something more constructive.
Rebuild a Positive Emotional State in a Child
Have you ever seen a movie or TV show where someone tries to pull a table cloth out from under all of the dishes on a table? Supposedly, if you do it fast enough, the dishes stay in place. But it never works. The dishes always go flying and you have an empty table (and broken dishes).
What I’ll teach you to do here is similar. You’ll pull off the table cloth holding all of these negative emotions. They’ll go flying. And then you’ll reset the table of your child’s mind with a happier (or at least calmer) set of emotions. Tantrum averted.
Let’s talk about specifics. The insider secret is a technique known as a “pattern interrupt”. This comes from the field of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), which is where I’ve adopted many of my ever-popular parenting techniques.
To help explain what a pattern interrupt is, imagine that you’re at the park with your child. There are plenty of children playing. Everything seems normal. Suddenly a man dressed as a clown skips through the play area singing a Disney theme song. Wouldn’t that seem a bit strange? Wouldn’t everyone pause for a moment to try to make sense out of it? Yes, they would. Your “pattern” of being at the park would have been interrupted by something completely unexpected.
When you interrupt someone else’s pattern, you create an opportunity to change the direction of their thoughts or actions. It’s actually very easy to do.
Let me give you a simple example that happened to me today, just prior to writing this article. Imagine that its’ a beautiful sunny Wednesday here in Toronto. My daughter, Anne, is home for lunch. We’re sitting at the table eating. We’re talking and having fun. Suddenly, she bangs her foot on part of the table. It hurts, and her mood is clearly changed now. She isn’t crying, but she’s upset.
As she’s looking down at her foot (not able to see me), I pull my T-shirt over my head so my face isn’t visible. I say to her in a stern voice, “Honey show me the problem. I can’t see your foot. Show it to me.”
She looks up and notices my face is buried under my T-shirt. I can still see her because the material of my shirt is so thin. I can see her smile slightly. Just enough to know that my pattern interrupt worked.
So now I have to leverage the opening I created. I change the direction of the discussion entirely. I say, “Hey, it’s Wednesday today. Do you know what that means”? It forces her to try to find some meaning for my question. She takes about 5 seconds before she says, “No … what?”
I continued, “It means that tomorrow is Thursday and on Thursday mommy teaches her fitness class, so I’ll pick you up from school. It’s still supposed to be really warm outside. So let’s play at the park for a long time after school!”
Do you think Anne was distracted from her banged-up foot? Yes, she was. And she never suspected that I controlled the locus of her mental focus while the pain naturally subsided on its own.
A pattern interrupt can take many forms. But at its core, it just involves you doing something that your child isn’t expecting. Acting silly is always effective for me because it’s in my nature. I’m a big fool (just ask my wife and kids).
I use clothes as props a lot. I might put my shirt over my head. I can hike my pants high up on my chest and walk around like a goof. If the kids are fussy when we’re getting dressed in winter, I’ll use their socks as my mittens and claim their too tight, acting confused.
I might pretend I saw something outside, such as a giant purple balloon floating in the back yard. Whatever it takes to guide their attention away from the problem of the moment.
Then, once you interrupt their pattern, you guide them in a new direction with a completely different activity or conversation.
Here’s an important fine point to remember: The quality of your pattern interrupt has to at least match the intensity of the problem. Let’s take this to a silly extreme and pretend you’re dealing with a broken leg. You can’t distract your child from this physical pain with a comment such as “Oh, look at that cute doggie!”
Similarly, if a sibling steals your child’s favorite stuffed toy and she’s completely bawling out of control, you can’t interrupt the pattern with a question about what she wants to eat for a snack later. You must match the quality of your pattern interrupt to the intensity of the problem. And you can’t solve every problem with a pattern interrupt either. Use common sense here.