Michael stays calm when Lisa throws a tantrum


This story of Michael & Lisa is a composite that represents typical scenarios faced by Triple P families around the world.

Lisa really is a terrific little girl but she has a very definite idea of what she wants – whether it’s what she eats, what she wears or what she wants to play. And in the past, if she didn’t get what she wanted, she’d let you know about it. Now, I’d heard of the “terrible twos” and I really thought Lisa would grow out of her tantrums. But she didn’t. In fact, the tantrums got worse.

The last straw was when we were in the supermarket on a Saturday. The place was really crowded, with parents and kids everywhere. Lisa ended up throwing herself on the ground and screaming at the top of her lungs – all because I said she couldn’t have some sweets. The next day I found myself a Triple P practitioner.

I soon discovered the way I talked and reacted to Lisa was actually encouraging her tantrums. That’s because when Lisa put up a fight about something, I often gave in. So for example, if we went to the shops and she saw a little doll she’d like, I’d initially say no. But she’d start whining and pouting. I’d try to reason with her, she’d get louder and louder and sometimes so would I. I’d eventually think: “Well, it’s a really cheap doll and it will keep her quiet for the rest of the shopping trip.” So I’d give it to her.

But Triple P showed me that I had been confusing her. I was telling her she couldn’t have something. Then when she misbehaved I was rewarding the misbehaviour by giving her the very thing I said she couldn’t have! She soon learned the way to get what she wants was to make a big scene. She was also getting a lot of attention when she threw a tantrum. Even though I was trying to stop her from making so much of a scene, I was really making things worse.

Now we plan for shopping trips. I try to keep her occupied and she knows in advance that she can’t always have what she wants. She gets a gold star or a hug if she’s a helpful shopper and doesn’t make a fuss. And if she ever does start to throw a tantrum, I stay calmer. Sometimes I may not acknowledge the behaviour at all for a while. Or I may get down and look directly at her and say: "Lisa, stop screaming right now. I now want you to speak quietly." So she’s learned that when she talks in a pleasant speaking voice, I will listen to her.

A great example of how far we’ve come is our morning routine for getting dressed. It used to be that if I chose a dress she didn’t want to wear, she’d just scream and cry. Now she asks quietly if she can please wear her favourite dress. So, of course she can. What dad could resist a simple request like that?