‘Tis the holiday season and kids’ expectations are high.  They want what they want and they want it now!

We may want to draw new lines, cutting back because of the economy or because we’re just tired of their whining and complaining or because we think they’re on the path to become spoiled brats.  But if we don’t please them, many kids will throw temper tantrums in public, as well as at home.  They’ll scream that you’re unfair, that all the other kids get what they want, that their lives will be ruined if they don’t get what they want right now, that they won’t have a social life, that they’ll be picked on because they’re poor and that they hate you.  Or if they’re very young, they’ll just scream.

They’ve made a list and they’ve checked it twice.  They’ve kept score and know you’re embarrassed by the fuss and more likely to give in when they meltdown or get out of control or go ballistic in public.

They’re just like we were, if our parents let us be. If we’re distracted now, embarrassed or lack confidence, we’ll make exceptions when other people are around and we’ll give in.  Of course, the kids will smell blood and up the ante.

So what can you do?

  1. The key is not to be embarrassed, distracted or self-judgmental.  Be clear; if they don’t get what they want it really is not the end of the world.  Don’t let their self-confidence and self-esteem depend on external stuff or other people’s opinions of them.  Don’t take personally what they say.  Do not care about or look at other people (including your parents) to see if they’re disturbed or disapproving.  If you care what other people think, your children will know that they’ll eventually win.  If you lose it; kids know that they will win eventually.
  2. The rules don’t change in public, although your actions will be different in each different situation.  Explain in private beforehand what you can afford and can’t afford, and what you think is appropriate and not appropriate.  Be clear about the areas in which they have no choice and where their vote counts and where they have total control.
  3. Normal children are supposed to learn how to manipulate you to get what they want; their job is to see if bullying works on you – where and when.  Their job is to test you by pushing your boundaries to find out where they can get their way.  Your task is to look at them lovingly when they’re throwing a stubborn fit because you can see how that determination, strength and perseverance will help them when they grow up.  That doesn’t mean you give in to them.  Your job is to stay calm and to assert your will to educate and socialize them whether they agree or not.  You can give them your reasons in a way that makes it a statement of fact, not a matter for debate, not a matter they get to vote on.
  4. Children just want to know the rules and boundaries.  You help them feel secure when you’re consistent, calm, smiling, loving and firm.
  5. Have a get-away plan before you go anywhere.  You and your partner-spouse will have to agree beforehand.  That may mean taking the kid for a walk or leaving early.  If they lose it, you will have to get them away and do your best to calm them down.  Don’t put them in situations where they get too hungry, tired or “wired” by too much input, sugar or caffeine.  For some kids, a big lesson is that they’ll be removed while everyone else is having a fabulous time.  Show them that their upset is definitely not contagious.
  6. When the children are very young (pre-schoolers), long before you think they can understand language, you can calmly and firmly state, “If you behave like that, I won’t take you any more.”  And then remove them.  You’d be surprised: they understand your calm firmness long before you think they can.  Often, you can distract them with whatever is around and interesting in the environment.  If you train them now, you might be able to enjoy their polite and civil company when they’re teenagers.
  7. Sometimes, with older kids, you can break them out of a fit by grading their performance.  Just like you see in the Olympics, line everyone else up and give grades for the performance – a 6.9, an 8.7, a 9.2.  With a loving smile and laugh, encourage them to do better, to shoot for a hissy-fit that’s worth a 9.9.  Give them a big round of applause or a wave.  Then go about your previous business.  The more you’re enjoying yourself, the less they’ll push the tactic of throwing hissy-fits; the less they’ll think that negativity, anger, rage and explosions will get them what they want.  By the way, boys will often stop any behavior you call a “hissy-fit.”
  8. If you lose it once in a while, there will be no permanent damage.  Of course there are a small percent of children who make the fight with you a matter of life-or-death for them.  Calmly convince them that’s not a good use of their energy and they won’t win that fight until they’re 18 and leave home.  If they continue that fight, they’re telling you they need serious help.

If you give in when they’re young, you’re training your children to be abusive, bullies, a.k.a. spoiled brats who think they can get what they want through harassment, abuse and bad behavior.  It’s hard enough for them to make their way through life with good behavior; it’s much harder if they’re badly behaved, grown-up brats.

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Ben Leichtling, Ph.D. is author of the books and CDs “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and “Eliminate the High cost of Low Attitudes.” He is available for coaching, consulting and speaking.  To find practical, real-world tactics to stop bullies and bullying at home, school, work and in relationships, see his web site (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com) and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGoneBlog.com).

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