Here is a recent question sent into the BehaviorBandAid Facebook page and my answer. I hope this helps:
I am struggling with my 6 year old’s behavior. His tantrums have progressed to full fledged destroying property. If we keep him from destroying things, he kicks, screams and hits. We also have a 16 month old who is picking up the habit of throwing everything because he has watched his brother do it. I am at my wit’s end for patience and just exhausted. When we try to talk calmly and explain consequences, he will scream, tell us to shut up and/or plug his ears. We are trying to figure out if this has become learned button pushing because he knows that we will have to restrain him if he attempts to damage things or if it is something more. He has done this in moments of coherence just to get a rise and push our buttons which is making me wonder if it an attempt at getting connection (we hold him/touch him) even though it’s negative. When we attempt positive connection, he resists…so lost and discouraged 😦
Thanks for asking. I think you are being very wise by understanding that something we would ordinarily think of as negative (restraint, getting a “firm talking to,” etc.) could be part of what is potentially making things worse. I also wonder if your negative interaction, shock response or reaction to his misbehavior – button pushing- is fueling this further. Sounds like a real possibility.
If you walk away from him during the tantrum, does he follow you or escalate his behavior? If so, the audience factor is part of the deal…he wants you to be there to see it and to react to it. If he stops when you walk away, he likely wanted you to go away. I think, from what you have said, it is the former.
Does he otherwise (other times in the day) soak in the attention and interaction from you? Does that seem to be a powerful thing for him? If so, I would make sure he is getting a bunch of your attention at other times to “fill his cup” so he does not low. Make time to be with him individually (hard to do with a 16 month old) and make your attention undivided. Take him to the store alone, play a game with him during the sibling’s nap time. If he resists, dont force it, tell him “I’d love to ________ with you, so let me know when you are ready.” Dont interact further at this time, but try again a little later.
During the tantrum or even when he is upset is usually not the time to talk about consequences or talk with him about the behavior. I think a lot of parents over-talk in these situations. Reasoning with a 6 year old is difficult on a GOOD day, much less during a tantrum. Dont feel the need to talk about it…apply the consequence you have decided to apply. That is good enough. Dont explain, dont reason, dont try to get anything out of him. Apply the consequence and move on. Do not let him hijack your attention at this time.
OK, lastly, if you are already in that situation and he starts throwing things, react as minimally as you can and get him to a location where there are limited or no things to throw and where you can interact with him the least until he calms. I want him to be able to calm on his own and not be reliant on others to do it with him. As you said, you run the risk those things might fuel the behavior anyway. Dont force it here, tell him “I can talk with you when you are calm” and dont get into a dance with him. Hold your emotions at bay as much as possible.
Hope this helps.