May 28, 2007
When your child acts up or throws a tantrum, it is never welcome, and when it happens in a public place, it can be downright embarrassing. We live in a society that is judgmental in its attitude towards parents and children. Comments like "What sort of parents are they? Can't they control their child?" or "This child is such a nuisance -- just doesn't stay put" are commonplace, and parents of troublesome children often find themselves at the receiving end.
Children are not always accepted as they are, and parents are under constant scrutiny for the way they deal with unruly kids. Moms and dads fear being judged as 'bad parents', so they shout, humiliate and criticise their child in public just to prove that they are good disciplinarians, not realising how this affects the parent-child relationship and what impact their behaviour has on the child.
A parent once complained to me about how his child behaved in the restaurant of a five-star hotel. The father lost his patience and started shouting at his son, saying, "I am never bringing you to a restaurant again! You don't know how to behave yourself. You have just been running around all over the place when I have told you so many times to sit in one place and eat your food. If you don't do that now, I am going to spank you." His son shouted back, "I only want to eat ice-cream, and I want it now!"
To most of us, this is a common scenario, whether we're parents or just fellow patrons. But there could be more to such a tantrum than just discipline issues. Let's analyse the situation. The child in question was Rahul Mehra, a three-year-old out for dinner with his parents, aunt and uncle. It was 11 pm; they had been there for over an hour and the main course had just been served. When his father got angry, Rahul started crying loudly. Mr Mehra, anxious about what the people around would think, started screaming louder to prove that he was in control. Predictably, his son's tantrum only gained in momentum, and Rahul began crying even louder.
Given this instance, you may think it's not advisable to tag your three-year-old along for a meal. On the other hand, family outings are an important part of any child's life -- parents, therefore, need to understand their children, and keep in mind a few simple tips to avoid tantrums.
Why did Rahul behave the way he did, and what could Rahul's parents have done to save themselves the embarrassment? Here are a few points we can take into consideration:
- Rahul was just doing what any three-year-old would do. Seriously parents, do you really expect such a small child to sit quietly in one place for two hours, having a meal and making polite conversation? Children do not have the patience to stay put for long periods of time. They get restless. It is unrealistic and unfair to expect them to have a meal and socialise as adults do.
Take your child to a restaurant that serves quick meals or one that is child-friendly. If you must go to a restaurant where the meal will take longer, take things along that can occupy the child such as crayons and paper, toys for younger children, etc. Another great solution, if possible, is to make plans with couples who have children of around the same age as your child. This will be a good step in social development for your child too.
- Moreover, Rahul was tired, sleepy, and hungry. 11 o'clock may have been way past his bedtime and dinnertime. I am not saying parents should give in to tantrums, but they need to remain alert to their children's fatigue and hunger. These are the few times when tantrums need to be handled differently. The best thing to do is to hug your child and make him sit close to you. Understand and accept his feelings instead of trying to control and subdue him.
Try and plan outings at a time when children are fresh, when it does not interfere with their sleep patterns. When children cross their usual bedtime, they usually tend to get irritable, which can lead to tantrums.
- Attention or lack thereof could be another reason for Rahul's tantrum. When you go out, attempt to involve your children in conversations. Very often adults start talking among themselves and the child is left alone. It is in these instances that we see children misbehave the most. After all, a tantrum would be the best way to get your parents' undivided attention -- be it negative or positive. The behaviour that gets them your attention is the behaviour that you will see most often.
- Rahul didn't know what was expected of him or how he should behave. Children need to be guided and taught repeatedly. Prepare your children for what is expected of them beforehand. What time you will be leaving and coming back, who else will be present, what kind of food will be served, what your children would like to take along with them etc.
Listen to how they feel about it, and ask them if you could do anything to make the meal and the outing more pleasant for them. Teach children basic restaurant and table manners constantly. Even at home, table manners should be enforced so that they become a way of life.
- Rahul knew it was easier to throw a tantrum and get his way in public. Discuss with your child beforehand the consequences of misbehaving after you have done all of the above. For instance, if a tantrum occurs, the child will not be taken along for a meal the next time you go out or he will have to miss dessert, as you will have to leave the place immediately, etc.
Keep in mind that the consequence should be related to the behaviour. At that moment, you can take your child to a more remote place till he finishes his tantrum, and then talk about it when he is calmer.
So plan ahead, encourage good behaviour, keep in mind your child's moods, and follow through with consequences. You might not be able to avert every tantrum, but this strategy gives your child boundaries and will keep those embarrassing sideward glances at bay the next time you go out for a meal.
Part II -- When your child misbehaves socially
Rupal Patel has done her child psychology from the National School of Health and Sciences, London. She also holds a diploma in early child care and education ORT India and Oxford. Rupal has been holding workshops for parents for the last five years.