My family was in a mess. Our three-year-old was having complete melt downs about every hour and it was driving us all mad. Every time we told her “no” she melted down into crazy loud wailing. Finally, in a fit of exasperation my husband asked her, “Do you really think wailing will get you what you want?” She stopped her cries on the spot and calmly said, “YES.” Obviously this was not a child who was adjusting to managing her emotions but using wailing as pure manipulation. (NOTE: this is “normal.')
Then she went on to explain a matrix to us — for every person in her life, she was clear who she could get what from, by wailing. She could get me to read her more stories, but not more TV time. Papa wouldn’t give her more toffees, but he would take her on the motorcycle. Her Grandma… and sister… and everyone was outlined. Clearly she had worked out that wailing DID get her what she wanted! My husband looked at me aghast.
What were we going to do?
Now, we had tried several things. I share them with you as examples of what NOT to do:
1. Give in. Frankly, if you give in to your child, then she clearly learns that throwing a tantrum is an effective way to accomplish what she wants. If you want to curb wailing, you simply cannot give in. If you do, you only prolong the agony.
2. Loosing our cool. When you already have one human being dramatic, you simply don’t need another. A child learns by example and an adult wailing doesn’t show them a good model.
3. Bribing. If you try to convince your child to not throw a temper tantrum by offering them something in return (even if it is not what they asked for), they quickly learn that wailing is productive. I mean, the child wailed for a toy but she got chocolate instead… hmm. She’s thinking “Not bad! Maybe I’ll try that again!”
This time, the idea immediately popped in our heads that we had to teach our daughter that wailing was actually not an effective way to get what she wanted. We were going to need to start NOW.
Over the course of the next six months, we made it clear that our family was the place for happy children. If she wanted to be with us, she couldn’t wail. And if she wailed, we immediately said no— no matter if we had just been ready to give it to her. It took six months… but… ah… the bliss of family life when the wailing happened less and less until, finally— presto!— it’s gone. Our daughter simply doesn’t wail now.
(Before you cheer too loudly… she’s moved on to other forms of manipulation— as kids do!)
Along the way, I had realized I had the topic for my next book ready. Because, as you probably know, my daughter is not the only kid who wails to get her way. Wailing Won’t Work born— and of all the Scholastic series books that I wrote, this is the one I hear back on the most. Parents need a way to steer their child in healthier directions— and it works! Every kid wants to be a happy child… but sometimes they need a little nudge.
Ps: One fun fact: I discussed the topic of wailing with our daughter to make sure she was ok with me writing about her. She was ok with me writing about her and even added, “I only wailed when I was little. Now I’m big and I don’t. But, you know… when I DID wail… I didn’t wail in purple— only PINK!” I’ll be sure to pass that on to the illustrators…
Also read more about: Managing Temper Tantrums In Kids