How to Handle Changes in Your Child’s Behavior
Has your child gone off the rails? Experts explain how to get him back on track.
The problem: A two-year-old who learned that a screaming fit usually resulted in a toy. “My son would let loose these truly bloodcurdling screams that would go on until one of us would give him whatever it took to make that awful noise stop,” says Rachel O’Connell of Ashland, Massachusetts. “One day he screamed so much he lost his voice.”
The fix: A nifty disappearing act. As soon as her son launched into one of his fits, O’Connell and her husband would calmly and promptly remove themselves from the action. “We’d go into another room right away, but we’d tell him he could come find us when he was finished,” she says. “Knowing that we weren’t going to get riled up or be around did the trick eventually. Within a week, the screaming sessions were down to less than a minute.”
The expert take: “When you say, ‘I’m not going to stay in the room with you for this,’ it’s removing attention from the tantrum, which says, ‘This is not acceptable,’ ” says Rex Forehand, a professor of psychology at the University of Vermont, in Burlington, and a coauthor of Parenting the Strong-Willed Child. “Toddlers might erupt like Mount Vesuvius, but then they have to vent and let go of upset feelings,” says Robert A. MacKenzie, a family therapist and the author of the Setting Limits book series (amazon.com). Stuck in Target? You can’t leave a screaming child in housewares. Forehand suggests picking up the child, leaving the store, and putting him in the backseat of the car―alone―while you stand outside with the keys. Wait a few minutes; if the tantrum stops, let him out and go back inside.