Sometimes kids have pretty strange ideas about fun activities, such as building a hut outside when it is pouring rain (see cartoon). When their requests are denied, they feel frustrated and angry that their wants and needs are – yet again – vetoed by unfair parents who keep telling them what to do. Rather than simply denying requests, parents need to direct children toward more appropriate interests and fun alternatives without breaking their spirits. In doing so, parents avoid the negative consequences of constantly denying requests (in cartoon: “I don’t think you can. It is raining”), which may build resentment toward parents, revenge to get back at parents, rebellion against parents, and retreat, that may involve becoming sneaky or experiencing a loss of self-esteem (Nelsen, 2006).
By practicing non-critical parenting, parents show children that their ideas are valued (in cartoon: “It sounds like so much fun!”) even when parents have no intention of engaging in their children’s plans. Such situations are perfect for the ‘incompatible alternative principle’ of positive discipline (Kersey, 2006); wherein parents provide children with a new behavior to substitute for the undesirable one. For example, parents could suggest building a hut inside, rather than outside in the rain. Parents skilled at finding fun alternatives are more likely to get the child’s cooperation and, as a result, more likely to avoid tantrums altogether.
Suggesting several fun alternatives is also effective because children feel a sense of empowerment when given choices. Providing a reasonable compromise or a couple of alternate options (which are acceptable to the parent) helps the child feel a sense of control. It is a win-win situation for both parents and children. Additionally, brainstorming with children and involving them in decision-making to find alternative options teaches them valuable problem-solving skills and can be even more effective. After all, since “children are born good, are altruistic and desire to do the right thing” (Godfrey, 2019); gently and respectfully guiding them in win-win positive directions fosters cooperation.
It is even better if parents suggest activities that involve parental interaction (in cartoon: “How about we build a hut right in your bedroom?”). Positive involvement, accompanied by parental participation, builds lifelong memories and strong family connections. There is no substitute for getting down on the floor and playing with children. This supportive, involved parenting teaches social skills and is also associated with positive school adjustment and reduced behavior issues. It is a creative and fun solution to short-term problems, that has long-term benefits.
Key take-aways to suggest fun alternatives to avoid tantrums:
1) When a child makes an unreasonable request, your natural tendency might be to deny the request with a logical explanation (in cartoon: “You can’t go outside, it is raining”). However, this approach is likely to lead to a tantrum. Research also shows this builds resentment toward the parent.
2) Instead, show true empathy. This shows the child how much you understand and relate to them (in cartoon: “I know how much you want to build a hut in the garden”).
3) Show children that their ideas are valued (in cartoon: “That sounds like a lot of fun!”), even if what they are asking for might not be possible.
4) Provide children with new behaviors to substitute for the undesirable one, such as building a hut inside, rather than outside. Children feel empowered when given choices. The key is to make it playful and fun.