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Handling Summer Meltdowns

Summer vacation brings long stretches of free, unstructured time. While this creates a wonderful opportunity for kids to relax and have fun, it may also increase kids’ frustration when parents set limits on activities. Read on to better understand what is behind childhood tantrums and for some tips on handling summer meltdowns.
Young children are not able to express their frustrations in adult ways and often resort to yelling, stomping, throwing, or other behaviors when they are overwhelmed with emotion. If it turns out that a tantrum gets the child what he/she wants, that child will come to rely on tantrumming as a strategy for getting his/her way. So while tantrums are a normal part of childhood behavior, they are also learned behavior. The good news is that you can help children unlearn this behavior. Here are some tips:

Don’t take it personally. A tantrumming child doesn’t mean that you are a bad parent or that you’ve done something wrong. On the contrary, enforcing rules and saying “No” (which often trigger tantrums) are necessary components of effective parenting.
Stay calm. Responding to a tantrum by shouting or arguing is not helpful and tends to worsen the situation. It is the equivalent of throwing your own tantrum. Avoid engaging your child in an argument, particularly with older children who may try to get you to back down and give in. Walk away if you need to.
Ignore. Oftentimes, ignoring the tantrum will be quite effective. This sounds easier than it is, and requires you to avoid eye contact as well as verbal responses. Again, walk away if you need to. Some parents find that going into another room and busying themselves with a chore or activity is helpful.
Stay strong in public. It can be very difficult to ignore a tantrum when it’s done in public. You may feel embarrassed by your child’s behavior and feel compelled to give in to your child’s demands just to have the tantrum stop. Although it is hard, do not reinforce your child’s tantrum by giving in. If you need to, give a consequence by taking away a privilege or placing the child in Time Out.
Reinforce positive behavior. Instead of paying attention to the tantrumming behavior, give praise and reinforcement when your child successfully calms down from a meltdown, expresses frustration appropriately, complies with your request, or engages in any other positive behavior that you’d like to see more of.
While summertime meltdowns are not entirely avoidable, you can respond to them in ways that will help reduce the likelihood of a future one. And with fewer meltdowns, you and your child can spend more time relaxing and having fun this summer!

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