Today’s question for Dr. B relates directly to an issue we are having with Mazzy. I know just two days ago I led you to believe that she is nothing less than adorable at all times but (surprise!) that’s not entirely true.
Here’s what’s happening: My husband and I have tried our best to keep television at a minimum but have been less than diligent keeping Mazzy away from the computer. Specifically, I made the mistake of showing her all the Mazzy-centric videos on Mommy Shorts. (How could I not?) Well, now it seems that she has developed a love for her videos that is so intense that it borders on Paris Hilton levels of self-obsession. If she had her way, she would do nothing but watch them over and over and over and over and over and over again.
Every other second, she wanders over to the computer, stares up at it with arms outstretched, saying, “Baby? Baby? Baby?” in her whinest voice possible. If you don’t heed her demands fast enough, her whiny request will quickly convert into full-on tantrum mode— “BABY! BABY! BABY! BAAAAAABEEEEEEEEE!!!!!” And I’m left wondering whether I’m supposed to give in to the tantrum to stop the screaming or stop the screaming by not giving in to the tantrum.
I can’t tell you how many times a day we go through the same exercise. Sometimes I give in. Sometimes I do not. If you had told me a few weeks ago that Mazzy’s “Year In Review” video would become the bane of my existence, I would have thought you were crazy. But here we are.
Thankfully, before I even thought to consult with Dr. B, I recieved this timely question in my inbox…
Dear Dr. B,
As a former middle school teacher, I am very careful to remember what giving into a demanding child will create. My sweet, happy 8 month old has recently started throwing fits when my husband and I fail to do exactly what she wants at a given moment. Much to my surprise, it’s just way easier to continue to play Patty Cake than to redirect a kicking and screaming baby.
Are we creating a monster? My mother said I needed to lay down the law now, but I don’t see how such a small child will understand.
At this young age, children do not have the receptive language skills to understand why something is off limits. They also have very little self-control which makes waiting and staying calm very challenging, especially when someone has denied them what they want. Children do not begin to develop the reasoning skills necessary to understand simple rules or verbal explanations until around 3-years-old. As a result, it is important to be responsive to your child’s needs at this age when you can. When things are off limits or it is time to stop an activity that your child wishes to continue, it is best to positively redirect the child to something that he can do instead of focusing on what he can’t do, and to help him learn to soothe himself when he becomes upset.
Positive redirection is giving the child an alternative activity or object that may satisfy the same need as what she initially wanted but in an appropriate way. For instance, if your child is playing with your phone, you would positively redirect the child by taking away the phone and then giving her a toy with buttons to press or if possible, a toy phone. Positive redirection teaches self-control because the child learns to accept that certain things are off limits or time limited but similar options are available. It is up to you to figure out what your child is trying to communicate and what need it may serve for her. If your child has a tantrum whenever you stop playing Patty Cake, try to think of what need this game serves– does she enjoy the interaction with you? the singing? the hand movements? When you are unable to play, try to positively redirect her by giving her attention in another way— singing to her or putting on a CD of the Patty Cake song, or by teaching her another game to play with her hands on her own. Often simply redirecting a child without considering what need the desired activity fulfills for him/her is ineffective because he/she is left with an unsatisfying alternative.
Sometimes a viable alternative will not be possible (or you will be unable to think of one in time) and your child will have a tantrum. Tantrums are a normal part of development and once a tantrum starts, it is best to direct your energy toward helping the child calm down (which depending on the child may mean holding and soothing the child while they cry or putting them down for a moment). Assuming all basic needs are met, do not give the child what she desires while the tantrum is still occurring (or to make it stop) because then you are teaching her that a tantrum is necessary to get her needs met and you will end up having a child who not only has tantrums more frequently but also has tantrums that escalate quickly.
If you have already given into tantrums in the past, you are likely to see the behavior get much worse (louder and longer) before it gets better. This is called an “extinction burst.” Wait it out because although it may make life more difficult in the short-term, it will be worth it in the long-term. Instead of giving into the tantrum, simply help your child calm down, make note of the cause, and decide whether there is something you can do differently next time to prevent it.
Your goal is to prevent tantrums from occurring by experimenting with different positive distractions until you find the ones that consistently work for each of your child’s tantrum triggers. Using this strategy over time (even after language and reasoning skills develop) will help your child learn to delay gratification, be flexible, and exhibit more self-control.
Best of luck,
THE LESSON FOR ME is that I have to decide on an acceptable amount of video viewing time (let’s say once a day), let Mazzy watch the first time she makes the request (before she gets upset) and then stick to my guns otherwise. That and make her a little photo album of herself to refer to at all times. And get her a child-friendly mirror. I call it— “Postive Redirection, Paris Hilton Style”.
Dr. B has a PHD in school psychology and specializes in early childhood development. If you have a question for Dr. B, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.