The Art of the Whine: 6 Ways to Combat Tantrums

6 Ways to Combat Tantrums

Ahhh, a child’s tantrum

What encompasses this magical activity? What causes it to form? What do our little beings think they’re achieving when they do it? Is there a way to make it end?

These are all questions we’ve all pondered as parents. I know I have, and I’ve never quite seemed to find the right answers.

In my own flashback, back in the day, I remember the background music playing in the store, as my son laid himself down on the floor, kicking the air, screaming at the top of his lungs. I remember thinking, “Dear Lord, what have I done?” as I looked around at my surroundings and realized in horror that we were in public.

I did find a little something on the topic, when I turned to my field of science for explanations. They’ve apparently studied whining. Really, you can find a study on just about anything these days. A 2011 study in the journal, Emotion, called Screaming, Yelling, Whining and Crying: Categorical and intensity differences in Vocal Expressions of Anger and Sadness in Children’s Tantrums, offers a unique window into the meaning behind temper tantrums, and why they may come in different varieties.

Needing a break from a child's tantrum: 6 Ways to Combat Tantrums

My flashback: a trip back in time

I remember taking my middle son to the store, back when he was around 4. He was such a good boy, so well-behaved, a breath of fresh air after my first (who’s incredible now, by the way. They grow out of it, I’m living proof. More on this later). I was always so proud to have him by my side, both because he was cute, and because I knew I could always count on his calm, sweet nature – the one that seemed to always allow for his soothing company while I shopped.

But not on this particular morning.

He must have been having a bad day. And I must not have known. Because no one is crazy enough to knowingly subject themselves to the torture of a mid-store tantrum.

The problem was that, while I knew how sweet he typically was, no one else did. They only knew what they were seeing for themselves. What was more- no one seemed particularly impressed by my determination to hold ground as a disciplining parent. All that mattered was that my son was screaming, and that, from the outsiders’ point-of-view, was enough for their guilty verdict.

I was sentenced to eye-rolls and stares.

It didn’t matter that they hadn’t listened to my side. Or even gave me my time on the stand. I was found guilty by the store occupants. That was that.

A tantrum in Action. How to Combat Tantrums: 6 ways!

Why the tantrum happened.

I remember exactly what it was about. A toy he picked up off the shelf. And being the tough mother I was trying to be, a real disciplinarian, I stood my ground when I told him, “No, we cannot buy the toy.” We were there for something else, and I couldn’t buy that particular one. (We were medical residents, and had no extra money to spare. See my story, Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend- Just Not Mine, coming soon).

Hence, the makings of a tantrum.

Of course, by the time we made it to the cashier, all hell had broken loose, as the stares of the strangers in front of me made me question my own parenting techniques. Could he really not have the toy? Was it really teaching him anything to repeatedly say no? Maybe I could just give in, just this time.

But I didn’t.

I remember to this day, the woman in front of me in line, straightening out her back, in that nonverbal gesture meant to point out annoyance. The eyes rolled over at the cashier, who pursed her lips together and lifted her brows, and they right then and there, had formed an unspoken alliance- a camaraderie of sorts, as if secretly sharing a mutual distaste for my disturbing the scene.

I had bothered them. And clearly, didn’t know how to parent.

A word or two may have even been exchanged. Well, I’d like to think it happened this way, at least- but in truth, I don’t quite remember. Back then, I was a bit more timid, and kept much more to myself. Chances are, I probably walked out of the store, my head hung low, my son still belting out his demands. I tried talking reason with him, but of course, he just wouldn’t have it.

But at least he didn’t win! Or did he?

I look back on those years with a smile on my face. But only for a minute or two before that smile wipes right off, and again horror creeps into my face. You see, I have another little guy now, who’s in these tantrum years. I’ll gather my thoughts here for this article, and hopefully stick to my own advice, as I battle this newbie’s demands.

What have I learned from those past years parenting and experiencing tantrums? What are my take-aways for those of you with tantrum-filled years on your horizon?

6 Ways to Combat Tantrums


#1 Take Your Own Pulse

The doctors among you will nod your heads in recognition and agreement. It’s a known phrase, the number one rule we must follow, as physicians, during a medical emergency. It absolutely applies to parenting as well. First and foremost, remain calm. Nothing life-shattering is happening. Your child is safe and healthy. Whatever reason he may have for his tantrum, it’s not a life-or-death situation.

#2 Stick to Your Guns

You may want to give in. Don’t. It may seem like a no-win situation, but trust me, you’re winning.I think as parents we’ve all had times when we pause and question our stance. Especially so when trying to enforce a rule they don’t like.

It is one of the hardest things in life to stick to a decision that a child doesn’t agree with, at the young toddler ages. But, I’m here to tell you that it pays off.

 #3 Stay One Step Ahead of the Game

Try to avoid settings in which you know a struggle will take place between you and the little one. If you go into a candy store and don’t want to buy little cherub a treat, the odds are not in your favor. If you’re perusing around the toy store, with little one in tow, chances are he’s going to cling to that puzzle. And yes, it will always be the most expensive one in the bunch. It’s just a law of physics, how the world works.

#4 Tune Out

If it doesn’t affect their health, don’t pay them your attention. When a child tantrums they are looking for you to respond, even if it’s a negative one. In addition, if you’ve given in to their demands in the past, they’ll remember, and the tantrum will go on for longer periods. Nip it in the bud and tune it out. You’ll be surprised at how responsive lack of attention will be.

#5 Don’t Take Others’ Judgements to Heart

Others will judge. Everyone judges in life. But keep in mind that they aren’t in your shoes. They usually don’t know the background, or what took place. They’re looking in from the outside. Ignore them. Focus on your child and on your goals. You are on a mission to educate your child and your negative reinforcement will prevail. More on reinforcement as a way to teach your child coming soon.

#6 Pat Yourself on the Back

Your determination and hard work pays off. Your child can and will make the association you’re trying to hammer in. Don’t give up and keep looking ahead at your goal. You will get there and your child will benefit. Pat yourself on the back when you’ve succeeded in diffusing such a situation.


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