"I want a cookie! I want a cookie!"
Jennifer Cunha's 3-year-old could dig in his heels over something as simple as a snack. "My son was having these new temper tantrums that were going on for sometimes 45 minutes at home," says Cunha, 40, a stay-at-home mother from New Hyde Park. "I was at my wits' end."
Then she heard about a workshop in Mineola called Effective Parenting Through Meltdowns and Tantrums. At the $10 workshop given by the parenting education company High Functioning Family, Cunha says, she learned she should ignore her son's behavior when he becomes demanding instead of engaging with him in a power struggle. "It was pretty amazing, actually," Cunha says. "I literally wouldn't even give him eye contact. He would start whining a little less as he realized I was ignoring him. He knew he was losing the battle."
On a recent Wednesday morning, a half-dozen mothers gathered for one of the tantrum workshops led by High Functioning Family co-founders Margarita Daskalakis and Juarline Stavrinos. The duo worked together in a special-education classroom in Queens before starting their private, for-profit venture two years ago. They offer workshops and coaching about picky eating, how to navigate a special-education classification, how to reduce temper tantrums and more.
The temper tantrum workshop grew from experiences with their own children -- each has a son and a daughter between the ages of 6 and 10. The workshop is geared to children of all ages. "The typical tantrum is a kid lying on the floor and kicking and screaming," Stavrinos says. However, while 8-year-olds might not throw themselves on the floor, they will slam doors, stomp and yell, she says. "It's still their form of a tantrum."
The workshop focuses on two goals: what to do while your child is in the midst of a tantrum, and how to work on preventing tantrums in the first place.
The two biggest mistakes parents make when a child has lost it: too much talking and too much emotion, Daskalakis says.
Second-time workshop attendee Andrea Delgado, 41, a part-time photographer from Wantagh, has two daughters, ages 6 and 9, and she says her default reaction was to yell at her kids during a tantrum. "I hate yelling," she says. "Everybody's in the heat of the moment." She says she's learned to take a step back.
"The child enjoys the power that comes with getting a parent upset," Daskalakis says. The parent should remain neutral and just say, "When you're calm, I'll be able to talk to you," she says. She calls it "active ignoring." The parent is present for the situation but isn't responding. It can be taxing to stay calm, especially if the tantrum is happening in a public place, but the result is worth it, she says.
"Initially, the undesired behavior is likely to increase," Daskalakis says. "They're going to test you. They will scream louder before they realize no matter how loud, you aren't paying attention."
Then you're in charge, she says.
USE RUBBER BANDS
The goal is to prevent tantrums from occurring, but addressing the behavior in the heat of a tantrum won't work, Stavrinos say. "When they're in the midst of it, they're not hearing you at all," she says.
Instead, choose a neutral time and teach your child alternative ways to express anger or frustration, she says. "We expect them to know how to effectively manage their anger," Daskalakis says. Teach them to use sentences such as "I feel . . . ," "When you . . . ," "I need . . . ," she says.
One technique taught in the workshop is the Rubber Band Challenge. A mom puts three rubber bands on her right wrist in the morning as a reminder to praise the child's good behavior at least three times during the day. Each time she does, she is supposed to move a rubber band to her left wrist. Praising a child for positive behavior makes him less likely to exhibit negative behavior, Stavrinos and Daskalakis say. "What you focus on, grows," is one of their mantras.
Cunha says she keeps her three rubber bands right next to her jewelry and puts them on most days. She'll say things like, "You did a really nice job sharing with your friend," or "You waited for me when I told you to wait." She says her son's outbursts have diminished, and that someone at her local library even commented on how calm she was when her son was acting up because he didn't want to share a toy train.
WHAT Effective Parenting Through Meltdowns and Tantrums
WHEN | WHERE Next workshop is 7 p.m. June 9 at 77 Jericho Tpke., Mineola
INFO $10; 516-229-1744; highfunctioningfamily.com