The Tantrum is one of the many nausea-inducing tasks for any parent to endure; it is where you hone your skills and cut your teeth as a mum or dad. The Tantrum is where you sort out who exactly is boss (let’s be honest here – you’re at a disadvantage from the very start). Although tantrums are the preserve of the Toddler, in actual fact, you can expect a tantrum from a child of any age. The acceptable age range for tantrums is roughly similar to bed-wetting: Ages 0-4, 6-9, 13-16, 23-29, 35, 40-48, and 65+. Anything outside of those ages, and you’re doing something wrong (amongst all the other things you’re doing wrong). Knowing how to deal with a sudden eruption of infant emotion is part and parcel of the sport of parenting, and this list serves as a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to what to do when your toddler goes into nuclear meltdown.
And by cut-out-and-keep, I mean carry this list around with you at ALL TIMES and whip it out at the necessary moment. Nothing looks more professional than a parent going through a list of instructions in public whilst a child shrieks and complains about stuff. NOTHING.
IF THE TANTRUM IS AT HOME AND THERE’S NO RUSH
Make a coffee and sit down and wait for it all to blow over. You might as well have a bit of a sit-down while you’re dealing with it, and it’ll be all done in about 10 minutes, unless you’ve got one of those really weird kids with surprisingly endless reserves of stamina. Make sure the kid can’t injure themselves, pop the kettle on, relax, and watch them go nuts on the floor. Giggles a-plenty, I promise you.
IF YOU’RE AT HOME AND YOU’RE IN A RUSH
1. Patiently talk to the child in a calm voice. It won’t work, but at least you’ve ticked the box.
2. Make empty promises of ice-cream or Pixar films for when you get back. You never know, it might have an effect. Also, kids have zero memory, so you can always feign ignorance if – by some astonishing miracle – they remember your promises.
3. Shove the kid in the naughty corner for a bit. It’ll make you even more late for whatever it is, but “I’m really sorry, but the kid had a tantrum, and I had to put the them in the naughty corner before leaving the house” is a perfectly understandable excuse for being late, and the only people who won’t be sympathetic are people without children. And who gives a crap what they think?
4. Sod it. Just wrestle the child into submission. No-one’s looking. When they tap you twice, you can let them go.
5. Oh for heaven’s sake, you’re stronger than they are. Just strap them into the pushchair and get out the door ASAP. Yeah, they’ll be bawling like Bruce Dickinson, but that is some kids natural default setting, so nobody really minds, yeah?
IF YOU’RE OUT AND ABOUT (Probably shopping, ‘cos let’s face it, pre-teen children hate shopping. Why do you put them through it? Selfish, consumerist parent; shame on you!)
1. Ignore them. Just drag them around screaming. You’ve got your shit to get on with. Don’t let the kid distract you.
2. If you must engage, start crying as well. You’ll feel tempted to do so anyway, so you might as well board the boo-hoo train.
3. Look around. Other people are looking at the fuss you’re both making and judging you. If they’re tutting and shaking their heads at your predicament, start a fight with them, or at least unleash a volley of swearing. Because their kids never pull this sort of crap in public, do they? And you’re good for at least one angry swearing towards a bystander in your life – especially if you’re a harassed mum. I’m cool with that.
4. Remember that most grown-ups are keener to criticise than to actually help. Just deal with it yourself, and growl like a rabid dog at anyone who offers an opinion.
5. That creeping sense of shame you’re feeling is probably because you know that they’re all dialling Social Services while witnessing your toddlers’ public rage. If you get the chance, shove the kid under your arm, drop the shopping, and leg it.
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR CHILD DOES THE “HOLDING BREATH” TRICK
Just sing this song in time with the changing shades of your furious kid’s face:
“Red and yellow and pink and green,
Orange and purple and bluuuuuue
I can hold my breath too
Hold my breath too
Hold my breath until I DIIIIEEEE”
If they do turn blue, for God’s sake call an ambulance. Up until that point, you might as well sing along.
POTENTIAL TANTRUM SITUATIONS
On car journeys (the longer the car journey, the bigger the tantrum)
When you’re about to go out
When you have to go home
When you want to go somewhere and you’ve been really looking forward to it
When you try and get them to do homework
When you’re trying to get them dressed in the morning
When you’re trying to get them to go to bed in the evening
When they have to go to school
When they’re coming home from school
When they’re going to see relatives
When you’re in a restaurant
When you’re in a theatre and you’re not watching a panto (if you’re the kind of nitwit who takes their kid to see an Ibsen play)
When you’re going on holiday
When you absolutely have to leave to catch the flight
In the airport waiting for the flight at the exact moment when there’s loads of people around
In the park
Going to the park
Coming home from the park
When you’re taking them to a party
At the party
At the point when the party is over
When they’re supposed to be doing an extra-curricular activity that they normally really enjoy (e.g. dance club, swimming, piano lesson, etc)
When they’re required to practice doing the thing the extra-curricular activity asks them to do (especially practicing a musical instrument)
When they want food
When they won’t eat the food that is actually good for them
When they’re tired
When they’re tired and they absolutely, definitely, positively deny being tired whatsoever
When you’re running very late for something very important
When they’re in public
Whenever they’re on any form of public transport (planes, boats, trains, buses)
Precisely when you don’t want them to (weddings, funerals, etc)
Whenever it would most annoy you
When you least expect it
GENERAL DO’S AND DON’TS
DON’T give in. When toddlers win, they can be awful gloaters, and you can’t handle the humiliation. You never could. Give them an inch, and they’ll take the next 18 years. Heck, I know some people in their mid-to-late-30s who still leech off their parents because of a moment of weakness in the late 1970s.
DON’T try and reason with them. It’s pointless. They’re rolling around on the floor and screaming because you won’t let them eat dog food, so they’re hardly being reasonable. They’re not going to listen to reason anyway, they’re toddlers. And toddlers are essentially unreasonable idiots. Yes, even yours.
DON’T lock them outside in the garden until they’re finished. What’s wrong with you?? Children aren’t allowed outside anymore! Every parent knows that, for heaven’s sake!
IMPORTANT: Hitting, slapping, kicking, biting, scratching, spitting, hair-pulling, punching, pinching are all unacceptable behaviour, and if you get caught doing it, you’ll be in big trouble.
DO blow lots of raspberries and pull silly faces. Fuck it – the kid’s looking stupid, you might as well join them.
DO play music really loud, if you’re at home. You won’t hear your child anymore, and if you then start dancing around the living room, there’s always the chance the kid might join in and then you’re having a party! (The sight of a toddler crying and dancing at the same time is one of the underrated joys of parenting).
DO make all sorts of empty promises. Kids believe in anything (unicorns, princesses, fairies, the inherent goodness of others, the infallibility of adults, that their toys are sentient beings, etc), so you might as well bribe them with nonsense and then totally renege on the deal. And anyway, it won’t be the last time you tell your kids massive lies.
DO remind your child they’re being very silly. Because they are being silly. Silly, silly child. Hold them up to a mirror to show them their silly faces.
DO copy what your child says, but in a whinier voice. They hate it, and they’ll break off from their rage to funnel all their anger at you instead. You’ll be patronising your kid, and it’s a low trick to play, but face it, they’re gonna be traumatised in far worse ways throughout their childhood (probably by you), and you might as well get a snarky giggle from the experience.
It’s awful at the time, but please remember that children eventually get over this obsession with getting their own way. Some manage it sooner rather than later. Eventually they’ll realise the futility of expressing their emotions. Not that they’ll ever thank you for teaching them this invaluable lesson, but then again they’ll rarely thank you for anything.
Good luck, HAVE FUN!!
(The very best response to a child losing their shit on a supermarket mission I’ve ever experienced was years ago, pre-parenthood. I witnessed a child screaming all the way round a massive Tescos, and the mum was a picture of composure. The child was screaming “LISTEN TO MEEEEE!” for a solid 10 minutes as she pushed the horrid fucking brat, attended to the sibling, and carried on with her shopping without once snapping back. To hear the child screech down a centre aisle that was about 250 yards long, for a solid five minutes at least, was to experience a very slow Doppler effect. That unknown mum remains a hero to me, and I hope to one day emulate her)