3 Ineffective Strategies for Dealing with a Tantrum

by Abby on January 16, 2015

My kindergartener is either the snuggliest love bug or as mean as an angry drunk. Nothing in between and no warning when the switch flips. Take swimming lessons, for instance. He loves them. Cannonballs into the pool, splashing, kicking, grinning. Doesn’t even mind the showering and toweling off after, fond as he is of any excuse to frolic naked.

swimming lessons

But then, the car ride home. Silly mom forgot to pack a snack. Silly mom thought he could survive a 15-min. ride home where dinner was waiting. Silly mom was WRONG. Thus commenced the longest 15-min. car ride of my LIFE. Here are the strategies I tried to keep calm and drive on:

Strategy #1: A take-no-guff stance. (“Guff” is a weird word, huh?) I once wrote a — humorous, tongue-in-cheek — blog post for another site about how I did whatever my then-toddler demanded, because dealing with his endless tantrums just wasn’t worth it. Yes, I WILL switch the green cup for the blue cup sometimes JUST to avoid a meltdown, and I don’t think that makes me a bad parent. Many commenters vehemently disagreed. Ah, the interwebs – where every anony-mom has got your back and oozes empathy and support! Feelin’ the love… But I digress.

Back to me in the car: “You may NOT talk to me like that. Stop kicking my seat. I KNOW you are hungry and we will be home in 15 min. so CALM DOWN.”

Effect: Only angered the beast more. “I’m STARVING!!! I want something to eat RIGHT THIS SECOND!!!” Kicking and flailing ensue. I could’ve pulled the car over, but really. Why prolong the agony?

Strategy #2: Sympathetic mom. “You poor thing! You sure worked up a big appetite in the pool, didn’t you? I know you must be so hungry and I’m sorry I don’t have a snack to give you. We’ll be home soon and a yummy dinner is waiting for you. Oh, look – pretty lights!”

Effect: Pure, unfettered rage. “MOMMEEE!!! Get me a snack RIGHT THIS SECOND!!! I KNOW you have one!” I dug through my purse, the glove compartment, my older son’s backpack, looking for any crumb or stale fruit snack I could throw his way to shut him up before I crashed the car into someone’s holiday light display.

Strategy #3: Ignoring him. Despite his screeches, pleas, and kicks, I didn’t make a peep. Kept my eyes on the road and my hands white-knuckling the wheel, sweating bullets. Just watch me get pulled over for a burnt-out tail light or something. God help that cop.

Effect: More of the same. Observation: It’s hard to concentrate on driving when your nerves are SHOT TO HELL.

In a shocking twist, we made it home without a single red light, speeding ticket, or run-off-the-road pedestrian. My poor starving child went inside, scarfed down some meatballs and peas, and minutes later was climbing into my lap and wrapping his arms around my neck. “Mommy, did you see me floating on my back? Swimming lessons were so fun!”

And the angry drunk – er, hungry swimmer – has switched back to Mr. Snuggles once again. And I have 5 more gray hairs to show for it. Not for the weak, this gig.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Cara January 16, 2015 at 1:22 pm

Tantrums are the worst. Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do. One last strategy is to mimic their tone back to them. For instance, last week a tantrum commenced because I had the unmitigated GALL to take my child home from daycare instead of to the grocery store. After several attempts at calming (which worked NOT AT ALL) I remembered this one.

“I KNOW! You want to go to the grocery store!” (imagine a touch of whine here, and I’m as loud as she is) “You’re frustrated because Mommy said no!” At this point she’s now saying “Yeah!” “You wish we could go to the grocery store now!” And after a few more sniffles and “Yeahs” she settled down. It’s almost like we were commiserating together about that horrible mommy who wouldn’t let her go to the grocery store. I guess it made her feel heard or something, because it totally worked.

I don’t think that would work every time (especially with an overly tired kid) but one more trick for the arsenal!

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Abby January 16, 2015 at 2:37 pm

That’s a good one! My husband has had success with that trick. Me? I just get the rage and kicks. Lucky me!

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Kathy at kissing the frog January 18, 2015 at 7:38 pm

I love your description of him in the first line. And yes, I do agree with you on these. With my boys, I’ve learned that tantrums usually come when they are tired or hungry. Nap or food works wonders.

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Abby January 19, 2015 at 9:20 am

And yet knowing that and being sympathetic in the moment when someone is screaming in your face about something that’s not your fault are two different things. 😉

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Sarah January 18, 2015 at 8:24 pm

Am I the only one who experiences pure rage when the kids don’t respond well to “sympathetic mom?” It’s taken every ounce of my limited energy to creatively and sympathetically respond and they still don’t stop whining/yelling/ etc. If I’ve put so much effort into really, really trying to be nice and the effort isn’t recognized– lookout world. I snap! Ah it is so hard being a mom sometimes. Thank God they’re so cute and snuggly between the meltdowns. 😉

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Abby January 19, 2015 at 9:19 am

I am the same way, Sarah. In fact, these are out of order. I usually start with sympathetic, then tough mom, then I get mad and just fume silently till we get home. Did I mention *I* was ALSO tired & hungry??

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