Copyright 2021, John K. Rosemond
Taking Back Control From Child’s Tantrums
Q: Our four-year-old, an only child, is giving us fits. As a toddler, he began ignoring us. That evolved into downright refusing to do what we ask, as in, “I’m not going to” and just plain “No.” It seems like the nicer we are to him, the meaner he is to us. In addition, his tantrums when he doesn’t get his way have become Class 5 hurricanes that last until we give in. We know we shouldn’t—give in, that is—but his fits just wear us out. There is no doubt that he’s in complete control of our home. Is it too late to turn things around?
A: Not at all, but taking your son out of the driver’s seat is going to require a complete parenting makeover, starting with how you give him instructions.
Two words pop out in your question: “ask” and “nicer.” They may well hold the key to solving your problems. In the first place, asking a young child to do something is akin to lighting a fuse on dynamite. The fact is, you want your son to obey. To obtain obedience, your instructions should be delivered in short, authoritative sentences, as in, “It’s time for you to pick up these toys.” Your desire to be perceived as nice people is understandable, but something along the lines of “Hey, how about let’s pick up these toys now, okay buddy?” gives him tacit permission to respond with something along the lines of “I don’t want to,” which just happens to be the default response for a child your son’s age.
In short, stop asking your son to cooperate and begin telling him exactly what is expected. I call it “Alpha Speech.” Trust me, that alone is going to cut his disobedience in half—if you stick to it—with a couple of weeks. In the meantime, when he disobeys, confine him to his room for thirty minutes, defined by a timer set outside his door. Prior to using his room for time-out, however, you need to reduce its “entertainment value” by at least ninety percent. In other words, make it boring. Alpha Speech and an immediate, meaningful consequence should do the trick, but mind you, things are likely to get worse before they get better. A child who’s in “complete control” of the home isn’t going to sit well when his parents begin taking back that control.
Which brings us to his magnificent tantrums. In that regard, let’s not make things complicated. His room, after you transform it into his boring room, can also serve as his Tantrum Place. Every young child needs a safe place where they can protest not getting their way as long and loudly as they want. Immediately—and that is the key—upon the start of a tantrum, march him to his room with the instruction to stay until there’s no more tantrum left in him.
It shouldn’t take long for your son to discover that disobedience and tantrums are going to get him nowhere fast. When that happens, he will be a much happier camper, believe me.
With Sippy Cups, Stick to the Short Term
Research finds that so-called “sippy cups” – spill-free cups used by most American preschoolers – are linked to speech problems as well as early dental issues. A sippy cup’s spout depresses a child’s tongue, thus contributing to “lazy tongue” syndrome – sloppy “th” and “st” sounds. Pediatric dentists say that because parents typically fill them with sugar-sweetened drinks, sippys increase the risk of early cavities.
Playtex, the original Sippy Cup’s manufacturer, counters that scientific evidence fails to support a connection between them and speech difficulties, and that concerning toddler cavities, the problem is sugar-sweetened drinks, not the cup itself. In other words, the problem is not the cups; rather, the problem is parents.
The sippy cup controversy reflects a tendency on the part of today’s parents to over-use every manner of technology at their disposal to avoid or postpone working through fundamental child-rearing issues in a timely fashion. Included are the over-use of disposable diapers to avoid toilet training, pacifiers to avoid teaching children to self-comfort, bottles and sippy cups to avoid wiping up the spills that come with teaching children how to drink from lidless cups, television and other screen-based devices to avoid teaching children how to entertain themselves creatively.
Sippy cups have a legitimate practical use: to serve as a transition between bottles and lidless cups/glasses. Personally, I prefer spout-less cups, ones with a drinking slot on one side of the lid and a small air hole on the other. In any case, however, child-proof cups should be used for a limited time. The problems associated with these cups are not ones of design; rather, to over-use. Of those sippy-sipping kids who have developed lazy tongue, I’ll wager most are kids (a) who were still drinking from sippys well past their second birthdays, (b) whose parents allowed unlimited access, (c) who were also using pacifiers past six months, or (d) all of the above.
As for cavities, the problem is parents who think soda, fruit-flavored punch, and water all hydrate the body equally well, when the first two hardly hydrate at all. The human body is comprised primarily of water that is constantly being lost through breathing, evaporation, etc. and needs to be replaced. Americans – adults and children – need to drink more water.
Oh, and by the way, water does not cause cavities. Nor does it stain when spilled.
At the very least, every time your child asks for milk, fruit juice, or a flavored drink, tell him he must drink half a glass of water first. Chances are, after drinking the water, he’ll no longer be thirsty.
The bottom line on sippy cups: They should be used transitionally, between bottles and lidless cups/glasses, and be dispensed with by eighteen months. Remember that pure water, not fruit punch, is the basis for biological life.
The Biggest Problem Teachers Face Is Parents
When I ask a teacher, “What is the biggest problem you face?” the answer – there has never been an exception – is “parents.”
That is certainly a recent phenomenon. My parents were not a problem for my teachers, nor were the parents of my friends. We were afraid of what our parents would do if a teacher reported a problem to them; therefore, we did our best to not provoke such reports (girls succeeding much better than boys).
But that was then, and this is now. Today, the indignant parent who rises, knee-jerk, to his/her child’s defense at the slightest whiff of a classroom problem is ubiquitous. Why is that? It is because today’s parents do not believe in free will; rather, they believe in parenting determinism, which is to say, they believe in Sigmund Freud, the so-called “Father of Modern Psychology.” It was Freud who proposed that every glitch in a person’s behavior could be traced back to a dysfunctional upbringing, mostly perpetrated by a mother who was either too smothering or too distant.
Allow me to provide a real-life contrast: My mother, when I told her that a teacher obviously didn’t like me and was treating me unfairly, said, without hesitation, “Good. It’s high time you learned how to deal with people who don’t like you. You’ll encounter them throughout your life.” I was in the sixth grade. Twelve years young.
Today’s parent, given the same situation, is almost certain to travel to the school and confront the teacher in question. Her child, she says, “Would never do such a thing” or equivalent hogwash. She reasons that if he is at fault for anything, then she is somehow deficient. She is haunted by Freud.
When I continued to complain about said teacher, Mom told me, “You must have done something to make her not like you. You’d better correct the problem before your report card comes out or there will be consequences.” She was spot on, and I corrected the problem.
Today, the problem is never the child…according to the child’s parents, that is. And so, the problem, today, must be corrected by the teacher. Thus are today’s children deprived of the gift my mother gave me: to wit, the gift of personal responsibility, which, because children are generally loathe to accept it, must be forced upon them. Oh, and by the way, when it is so forced, children almost always complain (frequently accompanied by weeping) that they are being treated unfairly, which is simply proof that all children are near-sighted. As my stepfather used to say, “You don’t see past the end of your own nose.”
The end result of this unwitting belief in the musings of Freud, who can be credited for inventing psychobabble, is that the wrong person – the teacher – is assigned responsibility for the problem; thus, the wrong person is motivated to solve it, which she often does by simply not informing a child’s parents that problems exist, which further means that when a teacher finally does inform the child’s parents of a problem, the parents say, “He’s never had a problem with any other teacher.”
And around and around it goes.
How To Stop Kids From Living Out Soap Operas
Will my profession, psychology, ever get it?
Beginning in the 1960s, the psychological mainstream asserted that nearly all child mental health problems were caused by parents who did not allow children to express their feelings freely. The claim was snatched out of the thin air of speculation, as usual. Nonetheless, good parenting became defined as striving always to understand and properly respond to a child’s emotional expressions, also referred to as “helping children get in touch with their feelings.”
We are now more than fifty years into this progressive parenting experiment and child mental health is a train wreck. The evidence strongly suggests that when it comes to parenting matters, most psychologists don’t know what they are talking about. How, otherwise, to explain that (a) the more parents have consumed psychological parenting advice and (b) the more child psychologists, per capita, university graduate school programs have churned out, (c) the worse child mental health has become?
Children are inclined, by nature, to soap opera, meaning their emotional responses to events are generally disproportionate to the actual significance, present or future, of those events. Gaining the ability to think straight – the essence of good mental health – requires restraining the natural inclination toward allowing one’s emotions to drive one’s behavior. That restraint requires proper training. For a child, it requires parents who are willing to tell him that he’s making emotional mountains out of molehills, that his feelings are not going to dictate their decisions, and even that his preoccupation with his feelings is immature and counterproductive.
But all too many of today’s parents are intimidated by and even afraid of their children’s emotions. They host never-ending parent-child conversations about feelings. They allow their children’s feelings to determine their decisions. And in the process of all this supposedly good parenting, their children become increasingly captive to unbridled emotion. Many of these same kids end up in the offices of people who represent the source of the problem, talking about – yep, you guessed it – their feelings.
The Children’s Book Association has released a list of books psychologists recommend for children. They include one that helps children deal with stress and anxiety by “uncovering their emotions,” another that teaches kids how to get in touch with being scared, sad, and angry, and yet another that helps young readers become more mindful, whatever that means.
In reading the top ten psychologist-recommended books for children, I got back in touch with my unresolved yearning for the sort of books I read as a child and that my mother read to me: books that featured heroes battling dragons and children getting the best of witches and other variations on the universal struggle between good and evil. Instead of inspiring self-absorption, the books of my childhood inspired flights of imagination. Instead of putting me in touch with my feelings, these books taught me that when all is said and done, a life well led is all about the strength of one’s character.
Notwithstanding the alluring myths of progressivism, some things never change, nor should they.
Parenting Quiz: True or False?
We interrupt this weekly column with a three-question quiz, following which you will find the correct answers.
- True or False? Telling a child that her feelings concerning a decision you have made are irrelevant and that you will not discuss the matter with her is likely to cause psychological damage to the child, including trauma to her self-esteem.
- True or False? Answering “Because I said so” to a child who wants to know the reason behind a decision you have made is likely to cause psychological damage to the child, including trauma to her self-esteem.
- True or False? Refusing to help a child with a problem she brings to you is likely to cause psychological damage to the child, including trauma to her self-esteem.
In each instance, the correct answer is False, which means that children are much, much sturdier than the general public has been led to believe. And who, exactly, are the primary sources of said false belief? Why, mental health professionals, that’s who! Trust me, I am one.
To any of the above statements, most parents know that False is the correct answer, yet they act to the contrary. Why? Because most parents are intimidated by powerful emotional responses from their children, and children—the post-boomer species, that is—have a reputation for emoting powerfully when things are not to their liking.
So what if children don’t like a decision you make, a boundary you set, an instruction you give, or a consequence you levy? As Bob, my favorite uncle, was fond of saying, “Whadda they know?” The answer, according to Bob: nuttin’. Children have no sense of life’s big picture. You do, presumably. And so what if you could, given more thought and time, have made a better decision in any given situation? Will your cognitive impulse control problem traumatize your child? No. Therefore, give it a shrug and move on.
Which brings us to the most powerful four words in a parent’s vocabulary. I heard them a fair number of times, and I am not beset by “Because I said so” trauma (albeit I may not be the best judge of that). Those four words are simply affirmation of the legitimacy of your authority. Does an Army private have to obey a lieutenant only when said officer is able to give a reason that satisfies said private? No. The private must obey simply because the lieutenant says so. In your home, mind you, you are not a lieutenant, you are the Emperor/Empress. Embrace it, and in the process, help your child comprehend how the real world works.
Concerning Question 3, two FACTS: First, children do not know what they need; they only know what they want. Second, children have a low tolerance for frustration. Putting the two together, one arrives at JR’s Parenting Axiom Number 14-D: Children usually ask for help before they truly need it, if they even need it at all.
Parents should be conscientiously conservative when it comes to helping children solve problems lest they—the parents, that is—become enablers and their children become obnoxious whiners. We’ve already covered the four most powerful words in the universal parenting vocabulary; here are the seven most powerful: “You don’t need my help with that.”
Steel yourself for much wailing and gnashing of teeth.