Tag: extinction burst

Get your power back and reduce your child’s tantrums

Get your power back and reduce your child’s tantrums

If you have lost control of your troubled child and your household (most of us have), you know how hard it is to get things back on track.  This is especially for following house rules. Each time you try to enforce a rule, it’s ignored, or your child throws a huge tantrum, and you give in rather than expend more of your precious energy.  Who wants to invite another backlash?  Who wouldn’t give up, and choose the lesser of two bad options by allowing them to get their way?

A powerful tantrum is a good thing… only if you’re holding the line.  It’s evidence that you are regaining authority.

This seems counterintuitive, but the more your child fights back, the more power they lose, and the more you recover your authority.  It is normal to fight back harder and harder against rules and boundaries, then have an over-the-top tantrum.  It’s a psychological response that psychologists call an “extinction burst.”  It means the original behavior goes extinct and behavior improves thereafter.  It has been measured through behavioral observations of people of all ages and has nothing to do with troubled behavior.  The term “extinction burst” is even used by dog and horse trainers to describe a behavioral change in training. 

It goes like this: parents set a rule and start firmly enforcing it, and one of two things happen: 1) a huge tantrum, or 2) things are OK for a little while, and then tantrums start again.  If you can hold the line, psychological studies show that when massive tantrums fade, the extinction burst peaks.  They give up their own power and change their behavior.  Look at this diagram:  The vertical scale indicates level of bad behavior.  When a rule is firmly enforced (intervention), the tantrum peaks then it falls off quickly.

If you can stick it out through that huge tantrum, you will see fewer tantrums over time.  It works, but one must be like a rock and have support when The Big One happens. But be prepared, you might need to face several extinction bursts.  Little by little, simple rules will be followed, or they’ll be followed most of the time (you will always be tested).  But by this point, enforcement becomes easier.

Plan for major tantrums ahead of time and recruit help for holding a firm protective wall.

For explosive and aggressive children, it can be scary or dangerous to be on the receiving end because you know about the potential for violence and harm.  Prepare family members and others, and explain how the tantrum will be handled and how everyone will be kept safe.

Rules for house rules:

  1. Few
  2. Fair
  3. Strictly Enforced

Run a tight ship at home, but only have a few hard-and-fast rules, maybe 2 or 3, to save your energy.  Holding fast on enforcement is draining. Pick the rules carefully because they need to make sense and feel fair to everyone. Rules should also consider safety and family wellbeing, examples: we will eat every dinner together as a family; curfew is 8 pm; if there is any outburst, the person must stay in their room for 15 minutes, then they can come out, etc.

You may be surprised how relieved everyone will be after living through chaos for so long!  They will be thankful someone is finally in charge instead of the troubled child.  When I put on my armor and set about getting my power back, it was exhausting and very stressful, but consistent order brought a sense of security and safety. Use common sense and be flexible, set aside some rules temporarily if your child is in crisis or the family is too stressed at the moment.  Be very strict on only a few critical things, for example:  have zero tolerance for violence against others and alcohol and drug use.

You earn more respect when you are in control and better protect everyone’s peace of mind. 

You are the king or queen of your home, it is not a democracy.  Make reasonable and fair rules, enforce the rules with an iron hand at first, and then relax bit by bit, and live in a peaceable kingdom (with problems you can handle).

 –Margaret