Dear Kid Whisperer,
When my five-year-old daughter does not get her way and becomes angry, sometimes she escalates until she needs help calming down. We do this thing called “flowers and cake” where she smells the flowers then blows out the candles (getting her to take deep breaths). She seems to be escalating more and more lately, though.
Do we just stay the course with this? Will it eventually work itself out? Do we just need patience or are there other ideas that you have to deal with the escalating? -Tim, San Francisco, California
Do not stay the course. Staying the course will lead you into the iceberg that is having a sixteen-year-old with a large, weaponized vocabulary and a license to drive who thinks that the worse her behavior gets, the more attention she will receive from the world and the more control she will have over her environment. I suggest that you steer the parenting ship in a wholly different direction.
Helping a child to stop being angry is, on its face, a nonsensical concept. When left alone without opportunities for power struggles and attention-giving parents, angry kids will calm down after exhausting all other options. Angry kids need less stimuli, not more. You and you wife are extra stimuli. Go away.
In addition, when a kid is having a tantrum, giving them attention will reinforce ALL negative behaviors that led up to the tantrum including the tantrum itself.
Here’s how I would deal with a five-year-old having a tantrum in a way that will allow them to be the tough and resilient organisms that they are meant to be, and that life demands that they be:
Kid: YOUR ILL-CONCEIVED AND INANE RULES AND REGULATIONS ARE TANTAMOUNT TO A TOTALITARIAN DICTATORSHIP!!! BWAAAAAHH!
Kid Whisperer: Oh, dear.
Kid Whisperer picks up Kid and carries Kid (as Kid kicks and screams) to a safe room with no technology available. Kid Whisperer will repeat “Oh, dear” in order to stop himself from swearing.
Kid: THIS IS A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY AND AGAINST MY RIGHTS AS A YOUNG AMERICAN!!!! AS THE BILL OF RIGHTS CLEARLY STATES….
Kid Whisperer: (As he puts the child in the room) Feel free to come back and be with us as long as you can be nice.
Kid Whisperer walks away.
If Kid comes back and is anything but nice, Kid Whisperer again picks up Kid and simply repeats “Oh, dear”, over and over so that he does not accidentally introduce the five-year-old to any new words. He then simply puts the kid back in the room, where Kid can continue his tantrum or he can practice some character, grit, and emotional competence, and come back while not being annoying. Kid Whisperer repeats this until the kid stays in his room and freaks out, or he comes out of his room acting like someone who people might enjoy being around.