*Too Many Tantrums

Dear Joanna and Julie,

I have just finished reading your book and I think it’s an amazing book! I have a 5-and-a-half-year-old son, “Kevin,” as well as a 2-year-old.  “Kevin,” has always been a difficult child for me. He always has temper tantrums  (like every hour) over tiny matters. He  says he is very angry and he needs love from me. For example, when I don’t answer his question immediately or when I raise my voice  he starts to wind up and say ‘I am angry!’ Sometimes he throws things .  He always says ‘Mummy please give me love’. If I ignore him, it turns into a 30 min temper tantrum disaster.  If I sit him on my lap and give him a kiss or hug and try to do the tools , he is ok.

The thing is, because he does it so often,  I find it impossible to have the patience, and also I don’t think a 5-year-old boy should be having so many tantrums!   I want to know what exactly should I do when he has a meltdown? Telling him I really don’t like to see anyone being angry doesn’t seem to lessen  his tantrum.  And I have been using the tools for a few weeks now. Please help!

Yours truly,

Tired of Tantrums


Hi ToT,

It sounds like your son is feeling very needy of your attention right now, and you are feeling pretty frustrated. A temper tantrum every hour is a lot to take!

From what I understand, Kevin is actually pretty articulate about what he needs – love and attention! And when you sit with him on your lap and give him hugs and acknowledge feelings, it really helps. But you don’t want to have to do that a dozen times a day, and with a five-year-old, it certainly feels like he should be able to function without quite that much attention.

I’m guessing that with a two-year-old brother taking up his mom’s attention, Kevin may be feeling extra needy of some babying, while at the same time you are feeling extra needful of Kevin acting like a big boy. Two-year-olds are so demanding! The problem is, the more you press Kevin to be the big boy and not to need so much attention, the clingier and more desperate he will feel. The more we push away, the more they grab on. I went through this with my middle child, who went through a clingy, fearful stage. I became so frustrated; I was always acting impatient with him. A friend kindly told me that my impatience was making my son more clingy. I was working against myself.

So how can you muster the patience to give Kevin what he needs, and ultimately give him the strength and confidence not to need quite so much babying, while retaining your own sanity?

I am going to suggest that you throw yourself into babying Kevin. Invite him into your lap. Tell him he’s your super baby who can run and jump and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The strongest baby in the world! Acknowledge all his feelings (“Sometimes you like your little brother, but sometimes it’s a pain in the neck to have a two-year-old around. You miss the good old days when you were the only baby!”)

Give him ways to help out.  Maybe he can read a picture book to his little brother, or blow soap bubbles for him to pop, or build blocks towers for him to topple. Then use your praise and appreciation tools to help Kevin feel good about his role as an older brother. “I see a big smile on your brother’s face! He really likes it when you read to him.”

Resist the urge to tell him that you “don’t like to see him being angry.” As you noticed, that doesn’t work. He needs to feel accepted and loved even when he’s angry, just as we all want to be accepted and loved, even when we’re frustrated with our children. We wouldn’t want someone to tell us, “Hey, I don’t like to see parents who are frustrated with their children!” It would make us feel wrong and bad about ourselves.

But what about when you’re at the end of your rope, after the 5th or 6th tantrum of the day? What about those times you just don’t have it in you to be loving and patient?

Tell him how you feel, without making him feel bad about himself:

“Kevin, I can see you need some loving and hugs. Mommy doesn’t have the patience right now for that. My patience is the size of a tiny little pea. You can come sit with me in the kitchen while I make dinner, and I’ll be knowing how sad you are while I cut these carrots. After dinner my patience will be bigger, maybe the size of a watermelon, and we can sit down together and hug and read stories.”

Or maybe you can ask him to show you his feelings in art. “Kevin, I have to diaper your brother right now, so I can’t sit down with you. But I want to know how you feel. Can you show me with the crayons? … Wow, look at those blue and black lines zooming around. That shows me how mad you are! Show me more…”

No doubt there will be plenty of times when you don’t feel the patience to use any skills at all. That’s just because we’re human. We can’t expect 100%. But the more times you are able to accept your son’s feelings, either by cuddles or just in words, the more he will relax. And eventually he will start to have fewer tantrums, and feel more confident and sunny.



*Doesn’t punishment prepare kids for real life?

Dear Joanna and Julie,

Firstly, I really love your new book on how to talk to little kids. I think it’s an amazing book and very easy to read with great real life examples.

Secondly, your book mentions not to punish kids for their misbehavior, rather teach them how to fix their mistakes so they know how to solve future conflicts as they grow older. Now how does that prepare them for the real world where people receive tickets for not speeding or passing stop signs. Another example is if an employee repeatedly comes late to work or doesn’t get along with his coworkers, he may be fired. Aren’t these punishments/consequences for an adult’s wrong doings?
Please explain.
Thanks so much,

Real Life Mom


Dear RLM,

You’re asking the important questions! I’m going to start with your last example. If an employee repeatedly comes to work late, (or fails to perform the job adequately in other ways) he may be fired.  Why is the owner of the business firing this guy? Not in order to punish him, but to protect his business. In our book we advocate taking action to protect yourself, other people, and property.

The respectful way to approach this miserable employee would be to tell him how you feel, what you need, and to take action if he is not able to carry out his job. The final blow might sound something like this:

“Hey Bud, I need to be able to count on my delivery person to be here at 8am every morning. I hear that you’re having car trouble, and that public transportation is unreliable, and your shoes are pinching your toes too much to walk.  Unfortunately I have to hire someone else who is able to get here on time.”

That is very different from a punishment, which might sound something like this:

“Hey Bud, you’ve been late for three mornings in a row. Now I’m going to punish you so that you can learn to behave better. Every time you’re late, I will confiscate your cigarettes and candy bars. Or make you sit on this uncomfortable stool for 20 minutes. Or smack you on the bottom.”

In the first scenario Bud is sad that he lost his job, but perhaps he is able to reflect on the fact that he needs to make more of an effort to get to work on time in his next job, because now he knows that employers won’t put up with that, no matter what his excuses are.

In the second scenario Bud is probably angry, humiliated and contemplating a lawsuit against his employer for physical or mental abuse. He is not reflecting on strategies for arriving on time.

It’s true that Bud was fired as a consequence of his lateness. But the boss’s motivation was not to cause suffering in order to make Bud learn a lesson. He fired Bud to protect his business. Motivations matter. Bud will feel very differently about being fired if it is done respectfully, without intent to cause extra harm in order to “teach a lesson.”

A similar dynamic occurs in our home when we take action to protect ourselves instead of punishing the child. (“I’m very upset! I don’t want the couch drawn on! I’m putting the markers away for now. ” instead of, ‘Bad boy, now you get no dessert because you drew on my couch.”)

But what about the speeding ticket?  Don’t we punish people with fines in order to get them to drive more slowly? Well, studies suggest that while those fines help fund local government, they don’t actually encourage a change of behavior. This study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17366333 shows that drivers who receive speeding tickets are not deterred from repeating the offense; in fact they are more than twice as likely as other drivers to receive another speeding ticket in the following months.

Drivers will certainly slow down in the presence of a police officer so they won’t get caught. But as soon as that officer is out of the picture, they revert to their previous behavior.

As parents we are not looking to achieve the effect of having our kids behave well only when they are in danger of being caught. We’re trying to raise a person who is internally motivated to drive in a way that doesn’t endanger others, who has a sense of empathy and compassion for other human beings. That will not be achieved by means of punishment.

What’s more, we don’t want our kids to fear and avoid us the way most drivers fear and avoid traffic cops. That’s not the relationship we’re looking for!

If I had a teenager who repeatedly drove dangerously, I would take action by confiscating the car keys. I wouldn’t do it to punish him, but rather to protect him, and to protect other drivers sharing the same road. I might say something like this:

“I can see how tempting it is to drive fast and enjoy the power of speed! I can’t let you use the car until we figure out a way for you to drive safely. I would never forgive myself if someone got hurt.”

That is very different from a punishment, which doesn’t address the problem of how to change behavior.