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Toddler tantrums and other "junk" behavior

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The phrase "pick your battles" is one most parents are very familiar with. Parents quickly learn that their kids don't act exactly as they want them to all the time. Much of the behavior parents don't like is what's called "junk behavior." It's not harmful; it's just irritating at some level. For example, when a parent asks a child to do something, and the child complies but with a lot of eye rolling and muttering and stomping around, the eye rolling, muttering, and stomping around are junk behaviors. Annoying, but probably not worth "doing battle" over.

One of the best ways to deal with junk behavior is to simply ignore it and concentrate on reinforcing every semblance of behavior you do want. It can be incredibly hard to ignore junk behavior, but very often any attention a parent gives to it, reinforces it. Complain about that eye rolling, roll your own eyes, purse your lips in stoney silence… all of those parental reactions may just constitute the attention the child wants.

On the Click-a-Kid list recently, list members discussed strategies for dealing with a toddler's junk behavior. One member's child was going through a stage of yelling "I hate you, Mommy!" when she didn't get her way. "I hate you!" is junk behavior, but it's hurtful to the parent and hard to ignore. So list members brainstormed other ways to deal with the problem.

One list member uses a token economy with her toddler. She rewards him with varying numbers of "points" for all the good behaviors she sees. These points are plentiful and much loved by her son. In turn, he can trade in his points for privileges. If he wants to get Jamba Juice on the way home, they can do that if he's willing to "buy" the privilege with his points. Sometimes he is willing to make that deal, and other times he isn't, but there's no battle over it. When he went through a stage recently where he threw a fit about being asked to go places he didn't want to go, his mother responded by saying, "You know, you have a lot of points. If you'd really like to throw your fit, you've got plenty of points to do it. Plus, you're a good boy and you know you can always get more points. So, if you want to spend X number of points on throwing a fit, feel free. I can wait until you're finished. Would you like to do that? Really, I don't mind."

The strategy worked brilliantly. She didn't threaten to take points away; she didn't punish or penalize him. She just gave him the choice of spending his points on that (junk) behavior. His points were plentiful, and, as she said, he could earn more, but he usually decided that he'd rather spend his points in other places for things he wanted more.

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