Okay, Listen up.

Seriously. You have to listen to me this time. I am a parenting genius for today only, and I must share.

I found the secret to ending a tantrum. More specifically, a two-year-old’s tantrum.

Both my kids have very strong opinions. [Shocking.] The eldest used to yell at people at the supermarket if they looked at him. “THAT LADY NO LOOK AT ME!” Every person in the store. Screamed at them. I learned to shop at 10pm by myself when that kid was Two.

One of his longest, most intense tantrums was in the car. He started yelling “That car no on road! MY ROAD!” He yelled and screamed and sobbed for almost an hour that the cars and trucks on the road must get off his road.

And I talked nicely the whole time. I patiently explained how roads worked, and taxes. I explained that he could use his money, as a grownup, to buy his own road, but for now we had to share. “I understand,” I said. “I want them gone, too. But they have rights.” I told him about rights.

Not one single word worked. Not even the taxes part. [Again with the shocking revelations. I’m on a roll.]

[Wait, you’re rolling your eyes, aren’t you? You would have ignored him, I’ll bet. Yeah, aside from my inability to go that route, this kid was un-ignorable.]

Cue the tantrums of the youngest. Wow that kid has lungs. And opinions. And the helplessness that launches a thousand tantrums.

Yesterday we drove past a front-end loader. And an excavator. And a backhoe. (I know, right? Why the backhoe if you have the other two? Why have the two standalone tools when the backhoe is all things to all projects? Why the redundancy? Dunno. Wish I did.)

All three trucks were stopped. We paused, we looked, we evaluated. We let the little guy give the cue to move on. (We’re not crazy. We wait ’til he says “bye-bye” to a construction site or we’re Dead.In.The.Water. Even the kindergartener knows this.)

After we leave, the Almost-Two starts demanding more trucks. Loudly. A tantrum is a-brewin’.

“That’s all, Butterbean. You want more trucks but I can’t make more trucks.”

“YES!” he shouts. “More!”

The older one just shakes his head. “No,” he says. “No more.”

Well, that’s it. Little guy is gone. In his place is a raging sobbing machine who will not rest until he sees more trucks. Especially since his brother said “no.”

So I try my favorite tantrum technique—empathy—but ratchet it up seven hundred fold.

“Aaaaaargh!” I yell. “I want more trucks!”

He calms down to listen.

“I like trucks” I shout, “and I want more!”

The Almost-Six protests. “Mom. You don’t even like trucks.”

“I know, buddy. But watch this work.” I continue. “I LIKED those trucks and I want MORE! And I’m mad there are no more trucks. ANGRY!”

The littlest gets it. He joins in a bit, he adds his two cents. He calms markedly. Finally, as I repeat that I’m angry, the toddler yells his sound for “angry”. All three of us bellow a barbaric yawp.

And the tantrum is done. I feel great (though hoarse). The older guy is relieved. The younger guy is satisfied.

So all I’m saying is: don’t ignore and don’t explain. Join in. It feels good, they feel heard, and all is happy and good in no time.

If you’ll excuse me, I think TED might want this lecture now….

[Update: one hour after I posted I got emails that this genius invention of mine is already a thing. In a book. By some parenting expert person. Figures, of course. The one moment I have parenting success could have come earlier and more frequently if I read a book, an event that happened before kids but hasn’t since.]

9 thoughts on “Okay, Listen up.

  1. I haven’t read that book, but I do read your blog. So THANK YOU for posting this advice, I’m sure it will come in handy when my girl is old enough to start throwing tantrums.

  2. Harvey Karp definitely knows what he is talking about, and we believe very much in his “Happiest Baby On the Block” principles. But, I have to say, after watching the 30 minute video of “Happiest Toddler on the Block” (for those Moms like myself with no time to read the book, it is the easier route) we didn’t have as much luck. But, we shall give it another shot! Glad it worked for you! (P.S….we also found Dr. Karp a touch creepy in the video…your video may be easier to watch!

  3. i like. i’ll be expecting more tantrums out of you in the near future. you should start the next one and see if you can get them to talk you down!

  4. My 6-y-o daughter was so angry about the injustice of it all the other morning, that she called me a “zombie-witch”. I couldn’t help laughing, then 8-y-o joined in (and defended me!!), finally 6-y-o started to crack a smile. We spent the ride to school speculating about what zombie witches would do, smell like, look like, eat for breakfast, etc. Giggles saved the day.

  5. You ARE a parenting genius! Who figures this stuff out without a book or advice? No one but YOU. Now that Aidan is doing the temper thing, I should try it. Though I have prefected the whole ignoring thing to an art. Hmmm, I wonder what damage that did.

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