How do you head off a temper tantrum before it ruins an airplane flight, a family reunion, or a trip to the mall? Author and GMA Parenting Expert Ann Pleshette Murphy shares tips to help parents understand what triggers their kids' meltdowns.
DENISE: Hi there I'm Denise Richardson from howdini.com and we're talking about kids throwing tantrums today. Couldn't possibly have a better guest than Ann Pleshette Murphy. She's the author of Seven Stages of Motherhood and a parenting contributor for Good Morning America. Does every child at some point throw a tantrum?
ANN: You know that's a very good question, you know, they certainly are very ubiquitous in the toddler years. You know there's a reason they call it the terrible twos and it's because at that age they don't have the verbal skills to express what they want. Just imagine how incredibly frustrating it is to have someone making all of the decisions for you basically 24/7. Never getting your own way about anything. And then when you do want it, to not really be able to say it. If you're tired and you're hungry to boot, you're going to have a meltdown. So, toddler years are big time for tantrums, but they can persist into the preschool years too.
DENISE: Is there a predictability, is there a pattern in building?
ANN: Sometimes, but parents cannot fault themselves if they don't catch it in time. You know there are obvious times when you need to be paying attention as in end of the day, child's exhausted, you're trying to get them to bed. That might be a real primo tantrum time. Or before dinner and even when they have to make transitions. You're telling them they have to leave the playground and they don't want to. There may be times when they become so overwhelmed and so frustrated and if you can predict it and of course prevent it by distracting your child or giving them a heads-up before you leave the playground or warning them that it's going to be bedtime and having a routine that you stick to, you know those can go a long way to preventing tantrums, but they're almost unavoidable.
DENISE: You know Ann, some parent is watching right now and saying oh yeah that happened when my kid was small, but I've got a teenager now and they go wacko on me sometimes.
ANN: You know it's a little different in the teen years although we now know that very similar things are happening to kids' brains when they're toddlers and when they're teenagers. They're going through this amazing growth spurt and parts of their brain that have to do with their emotions and their impulses grow much faster than the brakes. So for teenagers often what happens is that--and they're very emotional because of course there's all these hormones coursing through their veins--So for girls for example, the meltdown about the shirt that didn't get in the laundry in time and she's having a tantrum and you can't believe it. She really in some ways can't help it. It absolutely is that upsetting to her.
DENISE: Tantrum 101: how do they prevent it. How do they respond to it, even into the teenage years. You've got adults who are even acting out like this as well.
ANN: Well you know that's a really important point because one of the most important things we now know is what I think a lot of parents are aware of is that it take two to tango in almost any of these situations. And if you can maintain your cool, you're the grown up here. You know it's very hard sometimes, you can get drawn into a child's tantrum. It's often very hard not to lose your cool. If you feel that you are going to get very angry or respond by spanking your kid or doing something that you're later going to regret and that certainly isn't going to stop the tantrum, take a time out yourself.
DENISE: In public places, the parent oftentimes grabs the kid by the arm, if you keep that up I'm going to spank you, wacks the kid--how do you respond in a public place?
ANN: My advice to parents that if you're on the plane or if you're in the supermarket and your kid has a tantrum, your job is to say to yourself, I don't know these people, I'm never going to see these people again, I have to be there for my child because if you can't stand by your child's side in those situations, they're going to pick up on it and as you point out, it's just going to get worse.
DENISE: Interesting you said on a plane because I've had that experience and I've thought to myself, that parent must feel so embarassed. When you get on with a child to a flight, should you say, I apologize in advance for any noise--to other people?
ANN: I actually I carry this in my purse--I call it my tantrum tamer. I actually have it to help other parents because I find that one of the things that's amazing to me is how little support parents get when a kid is having a meltdown instead of leaning over saying I know this is really hard, don't worry about it. You know everybody crosses their arms and kind of goes [clicks tongue] you know the way we've seen everybody do. You know I think that we've got to cut parents a break and kids in a situation, especially when they're being watched, it can just make it worse.
DENISE: You know something I believe everybody needs a cheerleader and you're a great cheerleader for parents--
ANN: Oh thanks.
DENISE: Ann Pleshette Murphy thank you very much for being with us.
ANN: Great to be here.
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