Emily is at a restaurant with her family and sitting in a high chair for toddlers. There is some cutlery in front of her. She picks up a fork and looks, smells, tastes and waves it around a bit. She accidentally drops the fork on the floor. A kindly adult family friend picks it up from the floor and returns it to her. Emily is intrigued. She now proceeds to throw it on the floor. The friend picks it up again and puts it back on the table in front of her. Emily reaches for it and throws it even farther this time. Family steps in and picks it up but doesn’t give it to her. Emily makes a loud sound, waving her arms. She is given the fork back and told she mustn’t throw it. Emily throws it on the floor again. It is picked up and kept away and Emily is given a bunch of keys to distract her. She throws it on the floor. The food arrives and all are saved!
Emily is having a very interesting experience here while the adults around her are having a ‘Trying to have a restaurant meal with a toddler’ experience. Emily, like many young children, has a strong sense of order and enjoy finding out that things return to the same place. Emily is not trying to be naughty and she does not enjoy throwing things. She enjoys all movements and doing the same things many times to get the movements just right. All of this is to be separate from her shouting to demand her right to throw things on the floor and for you to pick it up. She does not have that right.
Here are a few personally tried and tested responses to consider:
…A kindly adult family friend picks it up from the floor and returns it to her. Emily is intrigued. She now proceeds to throw it on the floor.
1. Help Emily down to pick the fork up but do not return her to the chair immediately. Walk with her to a waiter and hand over the ‘dirty’ fork and then walk her back to her chair. Tell Emily that a clean fork will be brought back later. This helps to redirect Emily’s interest in a positive way. She has done something useful. Also helps to mention to the waiter to wait a while before bringing a fork back. Do not give her your fork when you go back to the table.
2. Pick the fork up and put it aside. Let her make her demands and respond gently but firmly and very seriously that the fork is for eating with and when the food gets here, it will be the time to hold the fork. Do not give the fork back under any circumstances but when the food is here. Depending on what Emily is used to, she may stop or she may proceed to reach for other things to throw on the floor and have a full tantrum. (no. 3) Ideally, she shouldn’t be successful. If she is, do no. 1. But do not give her the fork. When the food does arrive, do remember to keep your promise though.
3. If trying this out in public makes you nervous, then try it at home.
If tantrums are a real problem, and it is hard for you not to give in, then introduce scaffolds and delay letting your Emily have whatever she wants immediately. Eg. Emily does not put things away. Let her know that you are going to help her buts she must stay to watch you put it away. Perhaps, she can put the last one away and then give her what she wants. At all times, ensure she has a hand in taking some responsibility if not all.
A child who has tantrums is a child who has tantrums. She is not unreasonable, bad or chaotic. I like to describe it as ‘The force is strong with this one,’ and your role is not to tame this wonderful life force but to support it to be constructive and to provide scaffolds and structure so she feels safe and responsible and that she has choices.
There is no glory in enslaving yourself to your child. And there is no mystery to a child who is orderly and happy. Always expect and have faith that your child is able!