Q: Every time we leave our 3-year-old boy with a babysitter, he throws a terrible tantrum. He screams, pulls on our legs, and cries all over the floor. How can we break him of this?
Barbara: This is a very common problem for parents of preschoolers. The first step you should take is to talk with your child before you leave him for the evening. Say to him, “Mommy and Daddy are going out tonight, and we’re going to get a babysitter. I want you to know that we are going to come back at a certain time, and we expect you to obey the sitter while we are gone. I know you are not going to be happy about our leaving you. We will miss you while we are gone, but this is something we need to do.”
Sometimes parents don’t appreciate what a 3-year-old can understand. It helps for the parents to sit down and logically explain what’s going to happen. Then they must follow through with what they’ve said. If the parents say they are going to leave, then they need to leave regardless of the child’s reaction. They should tell the child, “Crying and screaming will not make me stay home or come back earlier.” If the parent leaves with that resolved, the child will see that he isn’t going to gain the upper hand and control the parent.
Dennis: I remember when this started with our children. It usually starts somewhere in the 18-24-month stage. In addition to explaining that we were leaving and clarifying what we expected from the child, we also outlined the consequences for throwing a tantrum or for failure to obey the sitter.
If the child disobeys and continues to throw tantrums after you have explicitly forbidden them, you must continue to discipline with love. After a couple of times of discipline, the tears should dry up and the tantrums should end. The toddler will realize, “This isn’t working, this scene is painful, and I don’t like it.”
That is the goal of discipline. Hebrews 12:11 says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” That is what we tried to do with our kids, and that is what God is trying to do in our own lives.
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