Quote of the Week

"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way" ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Temper Tantrums
Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Saturday, August 25, 2007

We had ten parents attend the Northhills PSST today! Instead of just performing one or two role-plays we got everyone involved in a group exercise role-play. I was the teenager for everyone. We did a lot of clapping as I went around the circle because all of the parents did a great job handling my whiny "I don't see why I'm on Probation" spiel.

The most impressive thing I heard today in group was from a couple who said that recently when their teen had a temper tantrum, they apologized to her. This was very effective and immediately calmed the teenager down. The apology went something like this:

Scenario: Teenager is acting out, having a tantrum because her car broke down.

Mom: You know, if If my car broke down I'd be mad too. In fact, I'm mad anyway cause if your car is down, now I have to share mine.

(Teen continues having temper tantrum, but comes up for air just before mother makes the following statement.)

Mom: I really just want to apologize to you right now.

Teen: What are you talking about?

Mom: Well, all these years, since you were little, we have been reacting to your temper tantrums. And we "get it" now that what we were doing is training you to have temper tantrums.

Teen: What do you mean?

Dad: Well, you would start throwing things, putting holes in walls, screaming or whatever- and we would both look for ways to make you feel better. You know, we would give you things you wanted or promise you that if you calmed down you could have treats, toys, or special privileges, so that you would stop the ugly stuff.

Mom: But all that did was teach you that having tantrums is a good way to get stuff and to get privileges.

Teen: Oh.

Dad: Yeah, I agree with your mother, we're sorry we did that- I'm sorry I did that- but I've changed, and I can't do that today.

Mom: Yeah, we both have changed.

Dad: We can't go back and change anything we did, but we can make sure we don't do it anymore.

Mom: So, go ahead and tantrum if you have to- but it's not going to fix anything or make anything better.

Dad: Right.

Both parents walk away- in this case teenager stops tantrum. Of course, that's not going to work that effectively in every situation - but it does several things extremely well.

1. Parents model taking responsibility. The parents put the focus on their role rather than on their daughter's role in the whole thing. The parent's model responsible behavior and at the same time they minimize the potential defensive-response from their daughter because the initial focus is not on the daughter.

2. Parents pay attention to what is the pattern or dynamic, i.e., teenager has tantrum and historically they reinforce that tantrum.

3. Parents clearly give the teenager permission to have the tantrum- (that is just taking ALL the fun out of it) so that it does not become a "control issue."

4. Clarifies- that there will be no more rewards for tantrums; parents will not engage in "How to make the teen feel better game." Parents state their intention to consistently refuse to reinforce that behavior. It's kind of like saying "the party's over."

5. Bonus: In the beginning of this role-play, Mom does a bit of "active listening" to set up the whole exchange. Active listening is often essential and Mom's statement that "I would be mad too if it happened to me," followed by the "I statement," "in fact, I am Mad now because now I'll be sharing my car with you," is priceless. This is a good example of (1) Active Listening followed by (2) Joining with the talker. This captures the person's attention so that they can hear what it is that you have to say.

6. Parents make their point and then walk away. Any prolonged intervention at the point of the tantrum continues to reinforce the tantrum because attention is the most powerful reinforcement.

My hat's off to this couple for their innovative approach to the tantrum problem. We can all learn something from this today. I know I did. ;-)

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