How to Deal With Temper Tantrums in the Car

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My husband and I read your column and have been using your strategies for maintaining a calm home environment with success with our seven-year old, who seems more prone to tantrums than his brothers and sisters. Removing him from the environment does work well, but what about when we want to create a tantrum-free environment in a moving car? -Kristen, Athens, Ohio



As long as the automobile has existed, parents have been driven (no pun intended) crazy by the back-seat antics of their kids. Of course, kids often notice when their parents are at a tactical disadvantage, and without the following procedure, you are at this disadvantage while driving: you are often trying to get somewhere important with not much time to spare, you are a bit stressed out already, and, by the way, you are driving a three thousand pound lethal weapon that could potentially kill you, your entire family, and any number of other people.

Right now, your kid has not yet figured out how to properly be in a car in a way that doesn’t endanger people’s lives. You will have to train him. Here’s how I would train your kid.

First, I would plan a trip of boring errands: going to the bank, the grocery, and last, the ice cream shop. The final stop creates a Self-Motivating Situation: it’s an activity that your kid will enjoy. This will supercharge all of the consequences woven into the procedure.

Kid Whisperer, while driving: Okay family, we need to go to the bank and the grocery store. After that, who wants to stop for ice cream?

Kids #1, #2, and #3: We do! We do!

(9 seconds elapse)

Kid #1: I was under the impression that I was getting ice cream and I want it NOW!!! I will now commence crying and screaming!! BWAAAAHHH!!

Kid #2: This again?

Kid Whisperer: Oh, shucks. I will continue driving the car in a forward direction as long as all kids in the car are pleasant.

Kid #2: Dude!

Kid #3: Could I be put up for adoption? Please?

Kid #1: BWAAAAHHH!!!!!!

Kid Whisperer: Oh, shucks. (Kid Whisperer turns onto a safe street and pulls over to the side of the road)

Kid Whisperer: I will continue driving forward as soon as everyone in the car can sit in the car pleasantly.  (Kid Whisperer gets out of the car, takes a lawn chair, book, and soft drink from the trunk, positions himself and his comfy chair so he can see Kids #1, #2, and #3, and Kids #1, #2, and #3 can see him enjoying a cold drink and a good book).

Kid Whisperer gets back into the car as soon as he sees that Kid #1 has ceased his tantrum.

Kid Whisperer: Try to remember under which conditions I will continue to drive the car forward, everybody!

Kid Whisperer then drives the car to the bank, the grocery, and finally (as long as Kid #1 holds it together), the ice cream shop.

If Kid #1 never calms down, or tries to leave the car, Kid Whisperer makes a call to a person who is waiting to be called to duty. That person comes to the family’s location, and takes Kid #1 home while everyone else goes on the errands—including the ice cream shop.

When tantrums never get a kid the tangible thing they want (ice cream, in this case) or control over an adult’s emotions, tantrums don’t tend to keep happening. Keep a smile on your face and stick with the plan, and you will be able to get rid of tantrums once and for all.