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Handling temper tantrums


My 4-year-old recently threw a temper tantrum complete with yelling, crying and dropping to the floor when I did not allow her to push the cash register buttons while checking out at a store. I offered her stickers if she would get up and walk out of the store quietly. She did not. So my boyfriend, her father, picked her up and took her to the car screaming. Once at the car, I again offered her stickers if she would get into her car seat quietly. (She does not like to ride in her car seat.) She complied and thus earned the stickers.  

My boyfriend feels that she should not have received anything given her poor behavior. I feel that parents should reward children for good behavior (in her case, getting into the car quickly and quietly), and ignore bad behavior (the initial temper tantrum). Who is correct?



Young children often have difficulties at stores. They want things and they are often (rightly) denied them. We can predict that this situation will likely result in a temper tantrum if we don’t do some pre-teaching about proper behavior.  

Do this before you go to the store next time. Make sure you approach this subject with your daughter during a neutral time when you are not upset. Focus on what you want her TO DO and not what you don’t want her to do. 

Say something like, “Honey, we are going to check out. Remember that the lady is the only one who can push the buttons. Mommy doesn’t get to and you don’t either. You can use a calculator to keep track of how many items we buy (give her a calculator from your purse).” 

If she has a total at the end of the transaction, give her a high-five or a pat on the back. Praise her, saying that maybe one day she will be able to work in a store like the lady behind the counter.  

You asked who was correct: you or your ​boyfriend. In a way, you both were. Your daughter getting into her seat quietly was good behavior and should be praised.  But instead of stickers, reward her with a hug and verbal praise. Remind her that now she will be safe in the car.  

Using stickers to coax her out of poor behavior may be confusing for her. If she didn’t earn them earlier for leaving the store quietly, she should not have another chance to earn them moments later.

Her father also has a point. Her temper tantrum was not acceptable, and this behavior needs to stop. Instead of just ignoring poor behavior, she should be taught a more acceptable behavior.  

On the drive home or once she is at home, she should also lose a privilege that she enjoys (a negative consequence). Rather than watching her favorite cartoon, she can practice self-control strategies to use the next time she feels like throwing a temper tantrum.  

Teach her to count to 10 or to take a deep breath. She can hug herself firmly to control herself. Make sure she knows that the loss of the cartoon is a result of her temper tantrum. We have to help children connect their behaviors to what happens to them as a result. That is what consequences are.

Parents are bound to disagree on discipline sometimes. But you must not disagree in front of your daughter or she will become very skillful at manipulation. Sit down together and list a few rules you want to establish for your daughter’s behavior in social settings and at home. List the desired behavior in these situations and the privileges she will earn if she meets your expectations. Also list the negative consequences she will earn if she does not. Please agree on these ahead of time as much as possible.