The Importance of Follow Through

Most parents have experienced their fair share of tantrums from their child. Although tantrums serve different purposes, they can often be a form of communicating a child’s wants or needs.

As a pre-school teacher during graduate school, I saw plenty of tantrums. Each semester began with young children being separated from their parents, and these kids often engaged in the one thing that is hardest for parents to see – crying. Typically, parents would rush back in the room to comfort their child. Unsurprisingly, the child would often continue to cry (and more intensely) during future drop-offs; likely because this behavior worked so well with gaining access to their parents!

In these situations, we would suggest that parents provide a comforting good-bye to their child but stay out of the room for the duration of the tantrum. Although a short-term solution for a tantrum is to give in by providing the child with attention, this typically sets a new standard for that child that can result in even more intense tantrums in the future. In this situation, the child can quickly learn that whining didn’t work last time but screaming did, so they will likely scream in the future to get what they want. However, the child will soon learn that their cries no longer result in their parents coming back and they are able to move on to more fun activities in the classroom.

Although this is a specific example of a child being dropped off at pre-school, it can be applied to many relatable instances in a child’s life. Parents may see these challenging behaviors when their child wants to avoid something (e.g., chores, homework), or when they want something that they can’t have (e.g., a cookie before dinner, candy at the store). Despite the differences in these situations, the concept remains the same – if you give in it will likely result in an increased likelihood that the challenging behavior will occur next time. Giving in is a short-term solution that typically results in more intense and problematic behaviors in the future, as it sets a new standard for that behavior (e.g., whining didn’t work but screaming did so I will scream next time I want something).


  • There are times that parents are unable to give their children what they want – not out of neglect, but because it is simply not feasible at the time. It is part of the learning process for kid’s to learn when their requests are appropriate or inappropriate.
  • There may be an initial increase in the intensity/duration of the challenging behavior after planned ignoring.
    • This is a sign that what you are doing is working, as there is typically a burst in intensity before the challenging behavior subsides.
  • Pairing reinforcement systems with appropriate behaviors can be a helpful way of decreasing challenging behaviors and increasing appropriate behaviors.
    • For instance, if your child sometimes struggles with transitions you may consider ignoring screaming but providing a highly-preferred item or activity whenever they appropriately transition.
      • Ignore tantrums and always follow-through by ensuring that they transition to the next activity.
      • Provide access to a reinforcer only for appropriate transitions.