Part 3: Providing Positive Attention
In this article, we will look at ways that you can decrease your child’s tantrum and problem behaviors by increasing your child’s access to positive attention and social interaction.
1. Give Daily Undivided Attention
Many times when children engage in tantrum behavior, they are actually just looking for some one on one attention from the adults in their life.
This is not to say that the adults in their life are not wonderful, caring people, or that the adults in their life don’t want to give them attention. It’s just that, as adults with young children, we are often very busy trying to multi-task and get everything done in a short period of time.
But children know when we are distracted and they learn quickly that tantrums (whining, throwing toys/food, yelling, etc.) are a sure-fire way to get some attention from us.
Try this: Find some time each day to give your child some undivided attention.
This doesn’t have to be a full hour or even 30 consecutive minutes.
- Spend 10 minutes after breakfast reading books before school
- Take 15 minutes after school and sit down to draw together
It’s the uninterrupted nature of this time that’s important.
And creating some of that kind of time for your child each day will go a long way.
2. Infuse Some Fun
As we all know, children like to have fun – and having fun is incompatible with having a tantrum.
So, whenever possible, infuse some fun into their everyday routines! Even simple things like adding music or dancing to an everyday task can increase the fun factor and decrease the likelihood of a child having a tantrum.
Try this: First, think about parts of your child’s day that might be especially uninteresting or boring to them. Something like grocery shopping or just sitting in the car on the way home from school.
Then look at ways to infuse some fun into these activities.
Here are a few examples:
- While they ride in the grocery cart, play the “I spy” game with something in each aisle.
- In the car, play an audio book or the soundtrack from one of their favorite movies
- The car is a good place to sing songs, and making up slight variations can be extra fun (e.g. “The Wheels on the CAR go round and round” or “This is the way we drive our car”)
- At dinner time, add a story at the beginning of the meal if getting them seated is hard. Or read a story as they finish up eating if keeping them at the table is challenging.
For more ideas on infusing fun into everyday routines, check out this article on making hygiene tasks fun.
You can also watch this video to learn more about making the instructions you give your child more fun!
3. Catch Them Being Good
One of the most effective strategies for decreasing problem behaviors is one we call “catch them being good”!
Essentially this means that you make a conscious effort to watch for the moments in which your child IS listening or engaging in appropriate behavior, and you make sure to RECOGNIZE it.
Try this: The first step is to notice whether or not you are already doing this and how often.
Do you hear yourself telling your child things like:
🥰 “Thank you for sitting down so quickly when I asked you to”
🥰 “I see that you cleaned up your puzzle when you were done, that’s great!”
🥰 “You’re being such a nice big brother right now.”
🥰 “I love when you use such big kid words.”
If not, make an effort to recognize your child for these types of things several times per day, even several times per hour, if possible.
You can also set yourself a goal of making sure to recognize your child’s positive behavior at least once per hour (or more). It doesn’t have to be a big production, just an acknowledgement of what they are doing well will make a lasting difference.
For other structured and more visible ways to recognize your child’s positive behavior, such as through the use of reward systems, check out our video on using sticker charts.
At the end of the day, we all want our children to feel seen, to have fun, and to spend quality time with their families.
Sometimes, it’s just about being a little more intentional in making those things a part of our daily lives, so that they don’t get lost in the shuffle. It’s also important to remember that children are programmed to test limits and seek independence, and sometimes that comes with a tantrum (or two or three…).
Here’s to making efforts to maximize the joy, because our children are certainly programmed for that, too!