For 5 years my hubby worked at our local Behavioral Health Department. On a daily basis, he worked with youth and kids 3-18 years old who suffered from behavioral issues. Before that he worked for 12 years helping special needs teens learn job skills and even be placed in employment opportunities. I’ve asked him to share a little bit of what he knows with you.
So you’re at the store and it happens, your child throws a tantrum. They start to cry, then begin to yell and then resolve to throw themselves on the floor or throwing things out of the cart. What do you do? You look around to make sure you don’t recognize anyone, run away from the cart and pretend it’s someone else’s child. Well, that might be what you feel like doing, but you know you can’t.
When you see this scenario take place it’s easy to assume that it’s simply bad parenting. “Well, if they disciplined their child more they would not do that”. How many times do we stop to think about what may really be going on? What as the cause of the tantrum? Was it simply because they wanted something and parents said “NO” or is it due to something else?
When working with typical children it’s easy to advise the parent to not give into the tantrum. Don’t give in to please your child because then they learn that “If I scream and yell in public then I get what I want”. Do you walk away from your cart in order to regain control of the situation? Although that may address an “occasional tantrum”, generic responses like that aren’t always helpful because they may not address the underlying cause.
One thing you can do is begin to track and journal your child’s behaviors. A simple way of doing that is using an ABC chart. This allows you to track the antecedent, the behavior and the consequences that were provided in response to the behavior.
A – ANTECEDENT – THE ACTIVITY OR ACTION THAT OCCURRED PRIOR TO THE BEHAVIOR
B – BEHAVIOR – THE OBSERVED BEHAVIOR (TRY TO PROVIDE DETAIL: WERE THEY THROWING THEMSELVES ON THE FLOOR, SCREAMING, HITTING THEIR HEAD, TENSING THEIR HANDS, HOLDING THEIR BREATH).
C – CONSEQUENCES – THE EVENT THAT IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWS THE BEHAVIOR. DID YOU GIVE IN? DID YOU YELL BACK? PROVIDE A TIMEOUT?
What you are looking for are patterns. You may initially feel that you can never go to Wal-Mart because your child throws a tantrum. However, He or she is fine until you pass by the toy or candy aisle. What if you walked around and avoided those isles? The behavior may also provide you with information. Are they covering their ears or hitting their head because the music is too loud? Is your child responding to overstimulation or trying to relay something that she or he does not know how to relay?
One of the things that we noticed at home with Peanut as that she would get mad and start screaming and then throw herself back on the hardwood floor. We were visiting her grandmother’s house one day and Jen noticed that she was getting agitated and upset. Jen grabbed a pillow off of the couch and tossed it to me and I dropped it right behind Peanut. Less than 10 seconds later Peanut threw herself back right onto the pillow. Our family thought it was funny that we knew what her responsive behavior would be. It took us a while longer to realize that she was not trying to tantrum. She was trying to tell us NO. She did not want to watch the show we had picked for her. Being non-verbal she could not express that to us. She could, however, express her emotions.
The last thing you need to ask yourself is how are you responding to your child’s behavior. Are you trying to get your child to stop yelling by yelling at them and telling them to stop? That quickly becomes a battle of who can yell louder and not care who’s watching. Are you trying to get your child to stop hitting their brother or sister by spanking them? Are you providing a consequence that isolates your child even though the behavior was caused because they felt left out?
This may not provide an immediate response. However, it may help you discover the underlying cause of the outbursts, tantrum or behavior.
Find more information at Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) Chart