Now, I used to be a behavior therapist for little munchkins with autism, so I've actually got quite a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to dealing with and decreasing less than desirable behavior. But not every trick works for every child, and it was a bit of trial and error to see what was best for Riley. First, we tried a little bit of the "ignore" approach. Bad behavior? Ignore it. But that was totally ineffective. She wasn't throwing a tantrum to manipulate us, she was throwing a tantrum because she was truly upset and didn't know how to express it other than get mad and cry. And ignoring her outbursts just isolates her and doesn't help her deal with how she's feeling. She is, after all, only 18 months old. If she were a 5 year old whining and whining about who knows what, the ignore approach might be more appropriate. But in our case, at this point, it's not the right thing to do.
Time outs are also currently not an option for us, because I think she's way too young for this kind of discipline. And she doesn't do a whole lot of "time out worthy" things, so I'm not sure when we'd even use them... We'll see if that changes once there's another tiny human in our house, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there. So for now, here's what's been working for us:
(1) Lots of advanced warnings when we're transitioning towards something new, or away from something she loves.
Say for example, we need to leave the playground. She LOVES the playground. We give her a 5 minute warning, and a 1 minute warning. Does she understand the concept of time, and what's 5 minutes vs. 1 minute? Probably not. But she does get that we're telling her in a little bit we will be leaving, so it's not a total shock when it's time to go. In addition, we give her a choice of what she wants to do before we leave. So, we might say, "Riley we're leaving in a few minutes, you can do one more thing, would you like to go down the slide or on the swings?" and she gets to choose. Then once we're there, we remind her it's the last activity, and that she has X number of swings or slides, left before we go. We count them down until it's time to go. Then we say "bye bye slide" or swing, or whatever, and we're off. Usually, there's no tantrum. It's awesome. if she does start to get upset, we remind her of all the fun things we can do wherever we're going next, and that pretty much always works.
This little routine has made transitioning away from her most favorite activities and toys (including the ipad), pretty easy. And that was not always the case. Trust me.
Oh my gosh the day it became clear that she understood this concept was AWESOME. Things changed for the better, for sure. For example: She asks for fruit snacks for lunch. I don't mind her eating fruit snacks, but I don't want her to have them for lunch. So I tell her "IF you eat your sandwich for lunch, THEN you can have the fruit snacks". And she does! Or sometimes she wants to go outside, but we're not done with dinner. "IF you eat 4 more bites, THEN you can go outside." It seriously works every time. No tantrums. We both win. Now obviously this won't work for every situation, even if she asks for ice cream for breakfast, I'm not giving it to her just because she eats her cereal first. No way. Or if she wants to go outside but it's freezing and pouring. I those situations you just explain why she can't have what she wants, and you know it's sad/frustrating/disappointing to her, but let's do THIS fun thing instead!
This will not work if your child doesn't really understand the concept of delayed gratification, but luckily Riley seems to get it, so we go with it. Basically, if we're about to do an activity I know is no fun for Riley (let's take grocery shopping for example), I need to be prepared to offer her something in exchange for good behavior. This does NOT mean I have to buy her something or spoil her rotten. In our case, right outside our grocery store there's this little fire truck ride on toy... you can put money in it for a "ride", but she's happy to just sit in there and turn the wheel. So as we enter the store, I show her the fire truck, tell her if she sits nicely in the cart while we shop, that she can ride the fire truck when we're all done. If during the shopping trip she starts to get mad or try and get out of the cart, I remind her of the fire truck, and she pulls it together. The at the end, she gets to ride the fire truck, I got my groceries with a happy baby, everyone is happy!
Of course occasionally, I do splurge and buy her things. But this is NOT one of those "my kid is going to throw a fit if she doesn't get this toy so I'll just buy it" kind of things. This is a spontaneous, "wow Riley, you've been a total trooper on all these totally boring errands, look what you get to have for being so good." Our latest purchase like that? A $12 "puppa" from Kmart.
Sometimes, none of the above apply. And maybe sometimes you will see the beginnings of a tantrum, but you have NO IDEA why it's happening. If you're quick about it, you can cut off the tantrum before it really gets going with a little redirection. Like, "Riley let's go read (insert favorite story here), hurry I'll race you to your room!! And off she runs as if we're playing a game of chase. Or, "look Riley! There's a birdie over there, let's see if we can catch it!" You know, anything to get her mind off whatever she was just about to throw a fit over. At this age they are so easily redirected, it usually works like a charm.
No matter what you do, how on top of it you are, and how hard you try, your little one is going to have tantrums. Sometimes you know exactly why, as they will make it very clear what they are upset about. In this case, it's best to try and provide her with the words that she can't express. A recent example: Riley likes to carry ALL her blankets with her from room to room. That's two large blankets and 2 small ones. And unless she grabs them all juuuuuust right, it's tough for her to get them all in one go. And she does NOT want to carry them one at a time, she wants them ALL in her arms together. I know this, and I can see her try to gather them all and I know exactly what she wants. I don't intervene unless she asks, or when she starts to get visibly upset and about to have a meltdown. But sometimes I'm in the other room when this is happening, and my only indication is her crying in frustration... in that case, I ask what's wrong, and usually the extent of her vocab is to tell me "gray grays!" I say something about how I know she's frustrated because it's tough to try and carry all the blankies at the same time, maybe she could carry two and I can carry two, or she can ask for help. She usually then asks for help, and we carry them together. And once we get to where she wanted to go, I get this face: