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Talking Down Tantrums

Dan Saelinger

HE SAYS “I hate broccoli!”

YOU SAY “If you eat two more bites, then you can have a cookie.”

YOU SHOULD HAVE SAID “So what would you like instead?”

There's nothing wrong with offering a child, especially a toddler, options at the dinner table. You don't have to present a smorgasbord, but giving your child the option of broccoli, carrots, or corn will only make things easier for you. Or cut the food into tiny bits for him to try (even half a pea is OK!). “There are battles you can't win,” says Dr. Karp, “and you'll almost never win the battle over broccoli.”

But don't tell that to Candice Williams of Edison, NJ. She has no problem getting her 3-year-old son, Mark, to eat his veggies. Her trick? “I tell Mark that if he wants to be like the Hulk, he has to eat his broccoli. He eats it all!”

Problem is, when you trick your kid into eating vegetables, you're not teaching him how to eat healthy. If you want your child to learn the importance of fuel foods and fun foods, have that conversation before mealtime. “Never get into a head-to-head confrontation with your child while eating,” recommends Dr. Gold.

SHE SAYS Boom! As in that block being thrown at your freshly painted wall—for the 15th time.

YOU SAY “How many times do I have to tell you?”

YOU SHOULD HAVE SAID “I know we talked about this before and maybe you forgot, but you can't throw your blocks. Let's put them away now, and I know next time you'll remember.”

As you already know, the answer to the “how many times” question is a lot. But that's because young children learn from repetition. You can say “We don't throw” a million times, but it's more impactful to pack up the blocks when your child throws them. “You have to show—rather than tell—your child,” says Griffin.

But don't stop there. Reassure her that you're confident she'll remember the next time. This helps build self-esteem and gives your child a sense of trust, says Healy.

So that solves it, huh? The next time your toddler is lying on the ground freaking out, you won't retaliate with some remark you picked up from the last episode of Toddlers & Tiaras, right? Wishful thinking. You can't expect to handle every meltdown gracefully. But when all else fails, take Griffin's advice: Respond with compassion. “You'd never yell at or threaten to abandon a friend having an emotional breakdown,” she says, so don't do it to your toddler, either.

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