When your child is having a temper tantrum, you may be willing to try almost anything to calm them down. According to Maggie Dent, an Australian parenting educator and author, you may not need to do anything more than ask a simple question.
Dent’s “two-second trick” was shared on a parenting Facebook page, sparking discussion among parents. According to Dent, the best thing to do when your child is having their moment is to ask them a question, such as, “Was that daddy’s car?” or “Would you like a drink?” and “Should we go outside and play?”
The question is a quick and easy way to divert your child’s attention away from whatever is bothering them.
Many followers, however, questioned whether this tip truly gets to the heart of the matter.
One commenter stated, “What’s the problem with kids getting angry? Instead of distracting them with ‘Daddy’s car,’ why not address the source of their frustration?”
Another person chimed in, “Don’t avoid the subject; instead, discuss it with your child. It’s normal for children to experience emotions at times, just as it is for adults. Do not gaslight; instead, deal with the situation as it arises. It’s no surprise that some kids entering early adulthood are messed up these days, because they don’t feel heard, which leads to a buildup of anger, anxiety, and frustration.”
“If any of my babies are angry, I honestly just tell them that it’s OK to feel angry and cry and just let it out, and I’m here if they need me,” said a third.
Nina Kaiser, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and founder of PRACTICE San Francisco stated that the advice falls short in a couple of ways.
“One, I think it’s unlikely to actually work that well in terms of defusing tantrums or emotional dysregulation in the moment,” says Dr. Kaiser. “Once a child—or any of us—reaches a certain level of emotional escalation, they lose access to their higher level thinking skills, which are required to respond to a question or interact with you in a reasonable or logical manner. As parents, there comes a point when we simply have to bear it.”
And two? Even if the strategy works in the short term, which it sometimes does, according to Dr. Kaiser, it fails to help children learn how to regulate their emotions in the long run.
“By distracting and defusing in the midst of big emotions, we’re invalidating their emotions by saying what they’re upset about isn’t worth our attention,” she observes. “We’re also sending a message to our children that big emotional experiences aren’t okay with us and/or that we as parents can’t handle or tolerate their distress.”
It’s also critical for parents to support their children’s ability to “go through the entire process or wave of a big emotion,” adds Dr. Kaiser, so that they learn these feelings come and go, ultimately making these experiences more manageable and less upsetting. They’ll also learn from having the opportunity to change how they feel by using self-soothing, calming strategies, such as breathing exercises, which can be extremely empowering.
That said, Kyle Pruett, M.D., a clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale’s School of Medicine, has an alternative suggestion: “Think about taking a moment to listen carefully through the tears for what is ‘wrong,'” he suggests. “Say it back to the child in your own words, and ask if you understand what is bothering them.”
He continues, “After confirming that you understand what is upsetting the child, refrain from passing judgment. This compassion should help to soften the child’s anger and validate their feelings. Often, in the heat of the moment, validation is more important than righting an injustice.”
The Bottom Line
While it may be tempting to seek a quick fix for a tantrum in a heated moment, confronting a child’s anger and talking them through their experience may serve them best in the long run.