Let me start by saying that I have way more experience dealing with tantrums than I care to admit.
My precious two-year-old has inherited some serious anger issues and occasionally (okay, often) will throw an all-out tantrum such as the world has never seen.
I’m talking the writhing & screaming on the grocery store floor type tantrums.
On one hand, I feel like I’m an expert on tantrums because my husband and I have had to deal with so many. On the other hand, I feel like I have SO MUCH to learn about them because we have so far to go.
I have, however, learned a few techniques that have helped us tremendously and that maybe (just maybe) will help you, too.
And maybe (just maybe) you can leave a tip of your own in the comments because we are certainly not done with our journey yet either…
4 tips to cut out tantrums & teach preschoolers to obey
- Count to 10. No, I don’t mean the old “You’d better come here before I get to 10” routine (which, in my not-so-humble opinion, does little to prevent the inevitable & ends up just teaching a child he doesn’t have to obey until you get to 9). No, this is a tip I learned from this post here, & it worked wonders for us.
Basically, whenever you want to end a fun activity (or are about to ask the child to do something he might not want to do), you say something like “You can play while I count to 10 and then we are going to get in the car.”
The point is to give the child notice that something will happen soon. But if you say “we’re leaving in 2 minutes,” a toddler has no idea what that means. By saying “I’m going to count to 10” it helps them better understand how much time they have left. And the beauty is that you can count as quickly or as slowly as you’d like.
Don’t expect this to work 100% of the time, but it really did work miraculously about 9 times out of 10.
Bonus tip: I’ve also found that explaining to kids what’s going to happen (& what’s expected of them) ahead of time is also SUPER helpful in preventing meltdowns.
- Play the Obey Game. I can’t believe how much my son loves to play the Obey Game. It’s just what it sounds like – you make a game out of obeying. Kind of like Simon Says, but with a purpose
So you say something like, “Okay, we’re going to play a game. I’m going to tell you to do something & you’ll respond with ‘Yes I will’ then you’ll go do it!” Then you proceed to ask him to do something easy like “go sit on the couch” & run and do it with him. Throw in lots of cheering & clapping and excitement as they obey.
More commands follow and lots more cheering and laughing. If your kinds are anything like mine, they’ll get really excited and may even run around squealing “I obeyed! I obeyed!” (See video clip for evidence)
The point, though, is that the little ones are learning to respond obey and to respond quickly and happily. (No, of course this doesn’t mean they will obey you 100% in real life, but it certainly helps them get used to the concept. Thanks to the Duggars for this great idea.)
- Teach your kid(s) to “obey first.” Does this ever happen to you: You ask your kid(s) to do something like “go play with your boat” but you don’t really care if they do it? They respond with something like “No I want to play with my cars.” So you say, “okay, sure.”
Scenarios like this happened all the time at my house until I recently had a bit of an epiphany. Wait a minute! I’m telling him to do something, he says “No, I want to do something else,” and I say “sure.” I am basically teaching him that if he doesn’t like what I tell him he can just say no and he won’t have to do it. No wonder he gets upset and doesn’t obey when it’s something I really do care about.
So I thought about it for awhile – I really don’t want to insist he play with the boat…..But what if I started insisting he obey first then ask for something else.
So now the scenario looks like this:
Me: Clayton, go play with your boat
Clayton: No, cars!
Me: Obey first, then ask for something else. Pick up your boat.
Clayton goes and gets the boat.
Me: Okay, now you can ask for something else.
Clayton: Play with car, please.
See the difference?
Now at first this took a lot of effort on my part. I really had to work with him to get him to obey first, but it’s only been a week or so and he’s already getting the idea.
And it’s starting to help him be used to obeying when I ask him to do something I really do need him to do.
- Tell teaching stories. I recently started telling Clayton stories about a boy named Alex whose live experiences are surprisingly similar to his own.
In one story Alex learns to obey and not scream. In another, he learns that it’s good to eat his dinner. Or to play nicely with his little sister.
Clayton LOVES “Alex stories” and I can see the wheels turning in his head about the parallels.
At the worst, it sure can’t hurt. And I think it just might be helping.
Of course we could also talk about being consistent, having consequences, and addressing problems while they’re small – all super important, but you probably already know that. I just wanted to share a few unique ideas that have been helping us lately in hopes one or more may resonate with you.
So just keep at it, brave mama. Keep working, brave teacher.
Our work is not in vain.
UPDATE! (And Golden Tip #5)
After I wrote this post, we continued to make gradual progress but still saw lots of challenges, too. He would be much better for a few months and then fall back into a string of fits. Once, as a 3 year old, he threw a huge fit in the grocery store over a piece of candy. It was so bad that the workers had to help me get him to the car (there’s no way to carry a screaming toddler & a baby at the same time.)
So our track record was pretty up and down until I was talking with one of my friends about anger in kids. I suddenly realized I had been dealing with the results of the anger & trying to get him to handle it correctly, but the real problem was the anger itself, not just what he did with it. So…..
#5: Teach them to get the anger out of their heart. I sat with my son and talked with him about how anger gets in your heart & how it makes you scream and throw fits. I taught him that when he gets upset he needs to tell the anger to get out of his heart. We said it out loud, “Get out, anger!” For the next few days, every time he got angry, we talked about getting the anger out of his heart & he’d tell it to get out. The change was immediate and astonishing. Normally it calmed him down immediately. When it didn’t, we’d pray and ask Jesus to help him get it out.
I can’t even believe how much this one thing has changed things. The other tips are great, but this has made the single biggest difference. It’s been a few months now and I actually can’t remember the last time I had to remind him to get the anger out of his heart. It still happens, but it’s more of an occasional thing than a constant.
I’d totally recommend you try this. And think about how it applies to other situations too. I’m now trying to think about what the root problem is and deal with that first before I try to deal with the external results of the problem.
What advice do you have for parents or teachers who are working to teach preschoolers how to obey? We’d all love to hear it!!