“Would you like to know how to stop a tantrum and never have another one?” That’s what the grandmotherly woman ahead of me in the check-out line asked me. She asked with genuine sympathy and without a hint of self-doubt her method was foolproof.
I was a 23-year old, first-time mom, stressed with my 2-year old’s first public melt-down in line at K-Mart. His melt-down included grabbing the candy at the register, wailing at being denied, tears and snot, flailing his dangling legs (he was seated in a cart), and being verbally disrespectful to me. He did not – could not – listen to my attempts at reason and soothing.
So I eagerly agreed to hear her suggestion. She said: “Tell him you will pinch him if he doesn’t sit still and be quiet. You’ll have to do it because he won’t believe you. Look him in the eye and pinch the chubby part inside his knee. Tell him you’ll do it again if he won’t control himself – he’s old enough – and then follow through. After the second time, you’ll never have to do it again because next time, he’ll believe you and behave. I raised six kids myself and it always works.”
She smiled and walked away.
The cashier heard it all. We looked at my hollering child and at each other. Then I did exactly what the woman told me. She was right. I had to do it a second time before he found his self-control button. But he found it and knew how to activate it from then on.
That was 30 years and two more children ago. Each child had exactly one tantrum. One and done.
PSYCHOLOGY EXPERTS DISAPPROVE OF THIS STRATEGY
Pinching a child’s inner knee chub will not injure them. But psychology experts seem to agree the slightest form of physical correction is inappropriate. Unfortunately, they disagree with one another about what parents should do.Some advocate ignoring bad behavior. They believe attention reinforces the problem and the solution is to walk away. This is becoming the popular protocol of many school districts. (As long as a student is not harming themselves or others, they can trash a classroom with no consequence. Not coincidently, it’s why many educators are leaving the profession.) Other experts insist you can reason with your child’s “higher brain” even while his “lower brain” spins out of control. In tantrum situations, one should attempt to redirect the child’s attention elsewhere. Presumably until the next tantrum. And the next. And the next…
WHY I DARE DISAGREE WITH THESE EXPERTS
- It’s ultimately kinder to enact MINIMAL physical correction for one event than to grow resentful of your child’s habitual tantrums and risk “losing it” in a moment of frustration. No one can maintain the psychology expert’s ideals because no one has endless patience. Thinking too much of our abilities can be hazardous for our kids.
- The claim that children are not responsible for their tantrums because they cannot control them flies in the face of the evidence. They can. A pinch proves it. Might they inwardly stew a bit at being denied what they want? Yes. It’s called disappointment and no one grows out of that.
- These experts insist parents set limits and ensure boundaries are maintained by providing “external constraints.” But boundaries are meaningless if a parent is in constant debate with their toddler because the only “constraint” available to them is negotiation. Even the concept of “time-out” is out of favor and now cast as emotional abandonment. So that’s not an approved option anymore. (Sorry, Super Nanny.)Ignoring a child’s tantrum is abdicating responsibility to teach them respect. Click To Tweet
- Furthermore, ignoring a child’s tantrum is abdicating responsibility to teach them respect. And it’s much easier to teach respect to a toddler than a pre-teen. Redirecting attention denies there’s a behavioral issue to address. It just moves on. Ignoring tantrums is a lazy parenting strategy to avoid proactive instruction. Redirecting does not inhibit future outbursts. Neither strategy prepares a child for life outside his house. You can be sure childhood playmates will not ignore or redirect little Johnny’s bad behavior. Little Johnny will be shunned by other children.You can be sure childhood playmates will not ignore or redirect little Johnny’s bad behavior. Click To Tweet
- The fruit of a generation raised largely in the philosophy of psychology experts isn’t impressive. Studies show today’s young adults are more dependent and less confident. (Google it.)
- Finally, I believe my kids – all responsible adults with children of their own – when they say they appreciate being raised, in love, to respect authority and exhibit self-control at an early age. Their parents were influenced by experts whose PhDs were in theology rather than psychology.
So I pass along the method, passed along to me, of how to stop that tantrum in its tracks and never have another – with genuine sympathy. Been there. Exactly three times.