Dear Kid Whisperer,
I follow you online and I went to your conference last summer, and it has changed my life. I have been able to be calm and much more strict with my seven-year-old. I am skeptical about something, though. Whenever I tell my son to feel free to be with the family as long as he can be pleasant, and then he isn’t pleasant and has to go to his room, and I tell him he can come back when he can be pleasant (just like you taught me), he will sometimes have a screaming, hysterical fit in his room. It happens less than it used to, but what am I doing wrong when he does this? -Karen, Centerville
Why, in the name of all that is good and holy on this Earth, do people think that they did something wrong when their kid gets angry? When did this become the conventional wisdom? Of course your kid isn’t happy when you set a limit: he wants to do whatever he wants and you won’t let him! You can’t set a limit with a kid and have him become blissfully happy at the same time. People try stuff to get what they want. When that stuff doesn’t work, they get upset about it. How upset they get depends on several factors. One of those factors is how effective becoming angry has been in the past at getting the person setting the limit to give in.
Just don’t give in!
So your son is having a tantrum in his room after you have set a limit and you’re asking me what to do? I say sit down, turn on the TV and have a snack. You won! Enjoy the moment! Your kid can cry his eyes out until he passes out in a puddle of his own tears. Make sure the room is safe and free from screens, and let him have at it. Your kid is learning so many important lessons by having a hissy fit in his room. He is learning that:
- His anger is his problem.
- He can be around people as long as he can be pleasant.
- He cannot use anger or poor behavior to bully or manipulate others. In particular, these behaviors won’t get him what he wants when dealing with the woman in his life.
- His mother loves him enough to set limits.
He is learning these lessons and what you are doing is working: you are setting a limit and he is realizing that his use of anger to manipulate is futile: you said yourself that these tantrums are becoming less and less common.
When you set limits with a difficult kid, it can feel like you did something wrong. As long as you set the limit with calm, kind empathy, the kid will be able to learn all of these valuable lessons. After all, if you don’t teach him early on that he can either be pleasant or he will have to go be alone in a room, a police officer may have to teach him this lesson when he’s older.