Ask the expert
Our mornings are nightmares
Dealing with tantrums can be stressful. Photograph: Thinkstock
Q My daughter is nearly eight years old and has frequent meltdowns and hysterical outbursts that are very hard to manage. Last week when under pressure she threw a hissy-fit and refused point blank to get into the car to go to school. I ended up dragging her into the car which meant she kicked and hit me on the way. I got her to school but I felt terrible afterwards. I don’t think she is having any problems at school as the teacher says she is doing fine, and has a few friends. The teacher does not seem to see any of the behaviour I see.
What can I do? She seems to pick the worst time to have her meltdowns, such as in the mornings when I am under pressure to drop her to school and to get to work.
A Dealing with behaviour problems such as tantrums and meltdowns are among the most stressful things you have to cope with as a parent. Such problems can be more challenging as children get older when the tantrums can be longer and more wearing and can be more damaging to the parent-child relationship. Usually, recurring tantrums are part of a pattern of behaviour that both parent and child are caught up in. The parent reacts to a child’s provocation, which in turn causes first the child and then the parent to escalate, resulting in an unhappy outcome for both. The first step in overcoming tantrums is to try and break these patterns and find calmer and more positive ways to respond.
Have a clear plan of action for each meltdown
Think through a clear plan of action that allows you to get through different “meltdown” situations in a calm way that does not escalate or make things worse. Different strategies work at different times. For example, it can be helpful to be empathic to your daughter – “Listen, I know you are upset, but once we get going you will feel better” – or to distract her – “Let’s get into the car and we can listen to your music”. You also need to think through what you will do if your daughter point-blank refuses to behave, for example to
get into the car in the morning. In these situations, you need to think of a consequence that you can employ, for example that your daughter loses equivalent TV time for the number of minutes she is late. When she throws a tantrum you simply pull back for a few moments and remind her of this: “Come on, let’s go now; if you are late you will only lose TV time.”
The challenge of the morning routine
The big challenge with a child delaying or refusing to go to school is that the consequence (the child being late) affects the parent more than the child as the parent is either under pressure to get to work or is more worried than the child about missing school time. To overcome this you have to organise things so that the child experiences the consequence and you don’t: which means you can remain calm and let your child learn from the misbehaviour.