By Dr. Noel Swanson
Here is the picture: You have just dared to deny your two
year old a cookie. So how does she respond? Does she take
it on the chin? Does she philosophically and phlegmatically
accept that, at times, life sucks?
Not on your life!
What does she do? She screams. She hollers. She cries.
She stamps her feet. She rolls around on the floor as
though in the grip of blood sucking demon.
Soon the neighbors are banging on the door wondering why you
are torturing your child. Then social services arrive.
Next thing you know, you are on national television being
carted off to jail for child abuse.
Well, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration. But it
certainly can get pretty stressful trying to deal with it
So what should you do?
The key here, as always, is to STAY CALM. The dynamic is
pretty simple. Child wants cookie. Parent says no. Child
wants to change parent’s mind, so she puts on a display.
This is important to remember: the sole purpose of this
display is to get you to GIVE IN.
If you do, then the child learns that tantrums work and,
guess what? Next time she will try it again.
So, if you want to eliminate the tantrums, here is what you
do: Walk away.
Let her carry on rolling around on the floor. Ignore her.
Do not try to pacify her (that would be rewarding it by
giving her attention). Do not scold her (same reason). Do
not say anything. Just walk out of the room.
If she follows you then, if necessary, lock yourself in the
bedroom or even bathroom – anywhere that you can get away
from her and completely ignore her. Put on some music, or
the vacuum cleaner so you can’t hear her.
The goal is to give her no attention, no feedback, no reward
for as long as she is making a fuss.
It is pretty hard to keep up a performance when no one is
listening. So if you do this successfully, she will
eventually calm down. When she does, THEN give her some
attention (but not a cookie!) Reward being quiet, not the
But be warned – she might get pretty loud before she gives
up, so be prepared to see it through! If you give in before
she is calm, you will have rewarded the tantrum and made it
even more likely to happen next time.
Just one other point – obviously, before you walk out, do
make sure that she is safe where she is. It would not be
wise, for example, to leave her unattended, having a giant
paddy, in the kitchen with hot liquids boiling away on the
Now, what if she does this in public?
Of course her tactic is even more powerful there, as she can
enlist your fear of embarrassment to work in her favor.
The principles, though, are the same. You need to ignore
it. You could just walk away and leave her screaming in the
aisles while you continue shopping. Or you could pick her
up, carry her to the car, put her inside, and then stand
outside (with your back to her) until she is calm.
If you have already been doing it successfully at home, she
will pretty quickly realize that the same rules apply here,
so she should settle down fairly quickly.
Dr. Noel Swanson, Consultant Child Psychiatrist and author of The GOOD CHILD Guide, specializes in children's behavioural difficulties and writes a free newsletter for parents. He can be contacted through his website on Expert Parenting Advice.