February 11 is celebrated all over the United States as the “Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk” day. It is a national holiday that serves to remind everyone of the importance of resilience and staying positive, and believe it or not, no one needs positivity more than a parent trying to raise kids. Toddlers mess everywhere up, they spill things, and are frustratingly very fussy. However, as a parent, you need to know that “stuff” happens (if you’re potty-training, you know what I mean by “stuff”). When things go wrong, when the proverbial milk spills—this also happens literally around kids—rather than curl up and cry about it, stay cool and take control of the situation.
Therefore, it is important that today of all days, we talk about something that brings parents, especially young dads, near tears: a toddler throwing a tantrum. Unlike adults, a toddler’s developing brain makes it hard for them to deal with difficult situations and bounce back from setbacks. Hence, their only recourse is to cause a scene at the most inopportune moment, perhaps in the middle of a crowded Target, just because they need their afternoon nap.
So, as a dad, what do you do in a situation like this? What do you do when Junior, your two-year-old son starts to throw a fit in public? He’s crying, and at intervals, he screams out for effect. You are out of your depth. What to do? Simple, follow the steps below:
5 Tips to Stop a Tantrum Fast:
1. Hug Him Tightly
Try to douse the fire before it gets out of control. Pull Junior in for a tight hug, and while holding him, breathe deeply from your chest. This should have a calming effect on him, making him collapse into your arms. Gradually, the screaming will turn to silent sobs, and before long, it’s all over. Stand up to the sound of applause from all around you, you are a great dad!
Nah, not really; people don’t care.
If, however, Junior is a stubborn kid and this doesn’t work, don’t fret, it is time to take it up a notch.
2. Distract Him
If he refuses to collapse into the hug and be quiet, try to distract him. You can do this by saying something like “If you stop crying, I have something interesting I want to tell you. Believe me, you’ll love this.” This should get his attention and slow the barrage of screaming and tantrum-throwing. You can make it even juicier by counting down.
Countdowns spark a feeling of urgency in children and he will likely stop crying just before you get to zero; kids are quite dramatic after all. Just say something like, “I am going to count down from three, if you don’t stop crying before I get to zero, I won’t tell you about a surprise for you.”
Yeah, it is a bit desperate it but thankfully, Junior doesn’t know that. All you have to do is surprise him with a reward afterwards.
3. Take Him Somewhere Quiet
Despite all your best efforts, Junior is still crying and you are about to lose it. Calm down a bit, don’t lose it. Draw from the positivity of “Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk” day and try another trick. Take Junior out of the public space and go somewhere quiet. This serves a dual purpose: one, you remove the audience he’s trying to entertain—or impress—with his vocal cords. Secondly, by taking him somewhere quiet, you show him how ridiculous he sounds making all that noise.
At this point, he is definitely softening up. Finish the episode by talking to him in a low voice. Talk it out like adults, you and Junior; make him feel like a “man”. One outcome is: your trick works and Junior “unburden”, calming down. Tantrum over.
Ah! The sweet quietness of victory. Or not!
4. Take Away Something He Loves
If at this point, you are still at it, it is time to bring in the big guns. Yes, the carrot doesn’t seem to be working, it may be time for the proverbial “stick”. Look Junior in the eyes and tell him, “If you don’t stop crying, no more cartoons.” If he’s still crying, add more of the things he loves. “No more games, no more juice boxes...”. The idea of life without his favorite things should get him back on track.
Sadly, I have seen kids who are not fazed by these threats. They are super-smart and they know you’re bluffing so the tantrum continues. At this point, there is no need to keep removing items from his “Hall of Fame”, he simply doesn’t care.
At this juncture, there is only one more thing to do.
5. Ignore or Walk Away
Yes, ignore Junior completely and walk away from him. This is going to be very hard, no parent wants to ignore their kid while they cry their eyes out, but sometimes, that is exactly what they need. If you are in a public place, please don’t walk away from your child, ha-ha! It’s not safe.
Just look away and pretend like you can’t hear that he’s about to lose his voice from all the screaming. Like I said, it will be hard, but after about 5 minutes of cold shoulder from you, he should be quieting down. Some strong-willed kids take up to 10/12 minutes, but that’s the threshold.
Phew! You have just successfully negotiated your first tantrum. You are now a crisis negotiator, a first-rate pediatrician, and a fully-qualified trial lawyer. You were able to achieve all these because you didn’t “Cry Over Spilled Milk”.
When you get home, your wife may not believe you, it’s all right, she’s just jealous; even she couldn’t get Junior to stop crying just the week before. In the night, she’ll try to use pillow talk to get the details out of you. Make her work for it, you deserve it!