We Are Both Right

Best Of (the Worst Of): Reasons Kids Throw Tantrums

child screaming

Look familiar? There are lots of reasons a child has a tantrum, but we really do need to start working on a catch-all solution. Quickly. ©Ginger Garvey/stock.xchng

SAAAAAN-DAAAAALS! The battle cry heard ’round the world. It was the beginning of another tantrum — and as usual it was about clothes.

So what that the temperature had dipped back down below 50 and it was windy and we were about to spend five hours outside on a dusty, clay-caked field for a Little League double-header. Sandals seemed pretty reasonable (and fashionable) in a four-year-old’s mind. Mom’s thoughts? Not so much. Commence tantrum.

You know the scene. And once a child gets into that mode – they’re as locked in as Maverick and Goose in Top Gun. Hugs, talking quietly, ignoring, yelling, nothing seems to work.

The one thing we have realized after years of experience is that sometimes prevention is the best medicine. If you know your child’s triggers, there are some things you can do to ward off the tantrums or at least make them less frequent or shorter in length.

It didn’t take us long at We Are Both Right to come up with the most tantrum-inducing scenarios. What did take a while was coming up with some solutions that didn’t involve earplugs or a passport and a one-way ticket for mommy to a deserted island.

Obviously, episodes like getting dressed in the morning and leaving friends’ houses are pretty much inevitable, so at some point you have to deal. But we’re thinking with these tricks, it might make life with a tantrum-thrower a little easier.


Choosing an outfit in the morning that doesn’t entail velvet in June or white satin sleeveless dresses on tie-die day in preschool in February. Take some time each night and turn this into a fun activity. Either watch the local weather forecast together on TV or pull it up on the web. Ask your child to interpret the  symbols, whether it’s partly cloudy, sunny, rainy or snowy. Explain the temperature and talk about what it will feel like on your skin. Give them the chance to be a weather reporter and give a little report to the family on what it would be best to wear the next day (i.e. pants and heavy sweaters, umbrella and raincoats, tank top and shorts, etc.) Then have your child pick an outfit to match the weather (and hope the weatherman wasn’t wrong). It will make your child feel like she has more control of the situation and made the decision herself based on her own conclusions.

Wanting something at the store and mean mommy won’t buy it. Talk about your shopping list ahead of time and ask them to check off things as they go in the cart. Explain that you have just enough money to buy these things, and anything they see and want, you have to think about adding to the list next time. If this doesn’t work, find a willing babysitter and go shopping by yourself (my solution for a few months when my kids were each around 30 months old).

Washing hands before and after dinner (the horror). Buy colored soap, peach-scented soap, hand them a wipe to do the job themselves. If that doesn’t work, threaten an earlier bath (and bed) time. Or do a science experiment on germs and let them see what dirty hands look like under a black light. It worked in our house!

Having to leave home to go someplace. Bring along the toy or thing that has them so attached to home in the first place. Tell them they will have so much fun when they get there. And then when they do, see below.

Having to leave someplace to go home. Promise that there are so many fun things to do at home, too. Tell your child that he can call his friend on the phone as soon as you get home. Have a snack stash in the car to lure her in. And then just make a quick break, because prolonged goodbyes never make it better.

Going to the supermarket (admittedly this makes me want to tantrum too). Bring a cart-worthy toy, or head to the book aisle in the supermarket and pick up a new book for your child to thumb through. It doesn’t necessarily have to come home with you, as you exchange it for a loaf of bread on the shelf. If your child knows colors, letters or shapes, play a treasure hunt game with them as you make your way through the store. Promise a special treat as you leave if they make it through tantrum-free.

Home improvement shopping where tantrumy child wants to run freely through glass tile displays on his way to jump into the whirlpool bathtub on display. Been there. The only solution is to leave and come back when you can actually form a clear thought about the tile that will be on your floor, well, forever.

Meal battles (think ice pops for breakfast). Recite a menu before the tantrum-prone child gets to declare his wishes. “Today, we have waffles, yogurt and cereal. Which would you like to start with?” And then ask another question immediately after — a distraction technique that I like to use. “And should we use your blue or yellow plate?” That way both answers come together and the child doesn’t think much about either one.

Best case scenario: Sometimes the tantrum isn’t full-blown and you will see a child who gets miffed and goes into meltdown mode, but storms off to a quiet space on her own, maybe even with a noisy door slam on the way out. Give it 10-15 minutes and chances are a centered, calm child will emerge like nothing ever happened.

So let us know where you are at with tantrums — do they happen once a week, once a month, or every day in your home? What are your best tips for keeping tantrums at bay? We’re listening, just don’t mind the screaming in the next room.

If You Aren’t Going to Discipline Your Child, I Will

Would you discipline someone else's child?

© tinacm/stock.xchng

A good majority of the parenting decisions we make every day are incredibly minor and done in the context of our own lives. No one knows (or probably frankly cares) that you let your child eat whipped cream on her waffles for breakfast or that your son insists on wearing the same pajamas to bed every night.

Now not to sound too much like a fifth grade hall monitor here, but I believe that sometimes though, the parenting decisions we make concern the greater good and need to expand beyond our happy little bubbles.

Like disciplining someone else’s child.

I remember the first time I raised my voice to a child who wasn’t my own. My daughter A. was about 15 months old and my son C. about three-and-a-half. We had just finished eating lunch at a local fast food  restaurant and the pair of them were happily playing at the small indoor playground there. In this particular facility there was a special room set up with tables right in front of the play area. There were some tunnels, a slide or two and a place the little ones could climb up through a tube. Because of the layout of the structure, parents couldn’t really go into where the kids were, although we could see them just fine, aside from any time they might be in the slide or shimmying up the tube.

As I watched my kids like a hawk (my default position) from a chair a few feet away, I noticed that there was one little boy, probably the same age as my son, who appeared to be targeting my daughter. He seemed to be wherever she was and he was behaving pretty aggressively towards her, pushing her out of his way and generally being unpleasant. Still, he was a little kid and my daughter was a tough cookie (she had an older brother, remember) so I chose to sit and watch — for the moment.

I didn’t have to sit for too long. He got her in the slide, pulling her hair and I’m guessing here, but hitting her face as well. As soon as she came out I could see something was wrong, bit fat tears rolling down her tiny face. She toddled over and in the saddest voice I had ever heard she said, “Baby hurt me.” (At 15 months, all kids were babies to her.) As I checked her over with one eye, the other was roaming the room, looking for the parent that belonged to the heathen that dare touch my baby. There weren’t too many people in the room and I couldn’t make a connection, so I let my mama bear instincts come out.

I marched over to him, got down to his eye level and in my sternest voice asked him if he had hit a little girl. Again, my eyes were working double-duty, looking for an adult who might take exception to me talking to their child. Still, nothing. The boy squirmed a bit and then walked away. But another parent, one who I realized didn’t belong to the troublemaker, came over to me and said that this boy had been causing unpleasantness for the past half hour and who she presumed to be his mother was sitting in the other room with some other women.

That’s all I needed. To make a long story short, I found the mother, told her what her son had done and needless to say she was mortified. As it turned out, her boy was nearly six (not three-and-half as I had guessed) and she thought he was OK by himself. He wasn’t.

And neither were any of the children around him.

From that day on, I never had any issue saying something to a child who was grievously misbehaving (looking for their parents first of course). But over the past few years, I’ve learned something. The few times I’ve had to step in and discipline someone else’s child, (or at least give them a talking to, I’m not for corporal punishment or anything) chances are the parents aren’t around or at least not looking. And maybe I’m lucky (or intimidating), but I’ve never had a parent stand up to me and tell me to butt out. Each time I’ve been met with embarrassment more than anything else.

Look, I’m not running around yelling at kids at every transgression that I see. Not every infraction requires me to stick my nose in and express my oh-so-important opinion. But there are certain instances where I will definitely intervene. If I witness bullying in action or a child deliberately causing harm to something or someone and there is no parent in sight, I’m going to speak up. Any safety violation will also hear me weighing in as well.

And if my kids are around and they are embarrassed, well that’s too bad. Because I think by correcting a wrong, I’m teaching my kids an important lesson — sometimes it’s important to get involved and stand up for what is right. Especially in the case where a child is causing harm to my child. If my child is young (as was with my daughter), it’s my job to advocate for her and to set the example that standing up for yourself is very important and something they shouldn’t be afraid to do.

It’s definitely a complicated issue, one with many interesting variables. Where do you fall? Have you ever disciplined a child who wasn’t your own? Suzanne’s a bit nicer about the whole thing, but now she’s got me wondering if my kids are really as well-behaved as she swears.

You Discipline Your Child, I’ll Discipline Mine

© Dan Colcer/stock.xchng

There are some things I just won’t do as a mom. Disciplining other people’s kids is one of them. (Making meatloaf is the other.)

It’s not a completely selfish decision. Of course, I rather not expend the energy setting some other kid straight when I have two of my own to look after — who despite being lovely and adoring most of the time, keep my disciplining skills finely-tuned enough. I will also admit that I find it uncomfortable to speak up and set boundaries for someone else’s child. Especially if the parent might pop back into the room in the middle of it.

But my main reason for skipping substitute duty on discipline is that I think I’m doing the child more of a favor than I am protecting my own interests. Here’s what you can expect if your child is acting up when you are not around:

{1} The passive approach will have to do. That’s my default setting, not knowing how intensely you would usually discipline your child. I will suggest that throwing game pieces is not a good idea and maybe it’s time to move onto a new activity, but I won’t make the offender stay behind to clean up. Seeing this side of me, my kids always wish they weren’t related to me.

{2} I won’t yell. Again, if that’s not your style, I don’t want to upset your child, or confuse or embarass him. After all, I’m not the usual adult he “reports” to.

{3} My child will bear the brunt of your child’s actions. Especially if it’s a group offense. Like: “Boys, L. is not allowed to shoot milk out of straws with his nose, so let’s not do that right now.” Or if your child is setting the example of not so great behavior, I might say: “I’m going to put S.’s very favorite doll away now because she gets really upset whenever any of us draw on her with markers.”

{4} I will invoke your name. As in: “You might want to check with your mom/dad before you drink your fifth soda.”

{5} But not to worry, if your child has rigged a pulley system from my backyard up to the roof and plans to practice rappelling, I will put a stop to it before they get more than a foot of the ground. That I promise. Danger is in a different category than discipline. And I’m sure you wouldn’t mind if I even yelled a little in that case.

But other than that, we’re all happy go lucky here, so don’t expect to drop your child off and pick-up a reformed one when you return in two hours. The Nanny I’m not.

I always tell Amanda she’s free to discipline my children if I’m out of the room, and vice versa. But at least she keeps her word.