Calmer, Easier, Happier Boys: Avoiding Tantrums

Avoiding Tantrums

Continuing our series, Noël Janis-Norton, acclaimed author of Calmer, Easier, Happier Boys, tackles more strategies for encouraging cooperation from boys and explains how planning in advance can lead to fewer tantrums

I believe that children who are mostly cooperative are more confident, more motivated, more considerate, and often more willing to take on new challenges.  I previously explained my key strategy for encouraging co-operation: Descriptive Praise. Here, I explain how to build on that foundation and how planning and preparation can greatly assist in helping boys to be more cooperative.

How can preparation help our children learn to cooperate?

  • Our expectations need to be realistic: if we ask a child to do something that is too difficult for him, he is likely to fail, and then be even less willing to try the next time.
  • We need to allow enough time for them to complete what we ask of them.
  • When we have taken the time to prepare them, children find it much easier to cooperate, even if what we want them to do is very different from what they feel like doing.

If we invest some time and thought in preparing our children in advance, they will be much more likely to do the right thing. Succeeding, and getting praise for it, will make them feel proud of themselves and pleased with us. So even before we ask questions like: “What should I do when my son screams in the supermarket?”, ask: “How can I plan the trip to the supermarket so that he is less likely to scream?”

It is far more effective to take the time to prepare in advance, rather than have to react when things go wrong.

How to Prepare For Success

Think through with your child what is likely to happen, what you want him to do, what he might find difficult, how he might feel, etc.

You may be surprised to learn that you do not actually need to explain very much to your son. Often, all you need to do is ask questions that require him to come up with the explanations. Try a new strategy, which I call a think-through, and you will see for yourself how much he already knows about how he should behave.

Let’s look at an example of how this can be done:


You know your son might throw a tantrum when it is time to leave his friend’s house. It has happened before, and both of you got very upset.


Before the play date (even days before if you know about it well in advance), have a think-through conversation with your child about what needs to happen when it’s time to leave his friend’s house. Each think-through should last only one minute. You could start by saying: “Tomorrow we’re going to Michael’s house. We’ll need to leave his house at 6 o’clock. What do you think I will want you to do when I say it’s time to go home?”

Your son might respond in one of several ways:

  • He might give the right answer: “You want me to come with you”. You can then Descriptively Praise him for getting it right, or for being brave enough to say it even if it is not what he wants to do.
  • Or he may wind you up by giving an answer he knows isn’t right. “You go home and I’ll stay”. You can then empathise: “You wish that’s what you could do. What do I really want you to do?”
  • He might have given you the wrong answer because he really doesn’t know what the right thing to do is. This is very unlikely, but if it happens, you can Descriptively Praise him for being brave enough to take a guess. You can then either tell him the right answer or you can give him some clues so that he can work it out for himself.
  • You son might not reply at all, or he might say “I don’t know”. Require him to take a sensible guess.

Stop asking think-through questions after a minute, even if you haven’t clarified all the points you want to make. We keep the think-throughs short so that they don’t feel irksome, either for the child or for the parents.

Later that day do another one-minute think-through, asking questions such as:

  • How might you feel when I say we need to go?
  • When I say it’s time to put your shoes on, what should you do straightaway?
  • What can we do to make it easier for you to leave Michael’s house without a fuss?
  • What will I do if you don’t come when I call you?

It is important to Descriptively Praise something about every answer, even if it is not quite the answer you were hoping for. You can praise his courage for answering, his understanding of what he has to do, his honesty, etc.

If your child has any sensible ideas about what might make it easier for him to do the right thing, use them or adapt them. You can offer your own ideas as well (in this example, you could give a five-minute countdown, then a one-minute countdown).

Every day, find opportunities to revisit this think-through conversation, always in a positive manner. This will keep alive in your child’s memory exactly what he should do. He will get used to the idea of doing the right thing.

When the time comes for your son to do what you’ve prepared him for, there is a much higher chance that he will do the right thing.

But of course, there will be times when he doesn’t do the right thing. Either way, you need to give some Descriptive Praise, either for a complete success or for anything he did improve on, even if he didn’t do everything you wanted. The Descriptive Praises will motivate him to want to cooperate. 

Why should we ask think-through questions?

  • When we simply tell a child what he should do, he is often not listening carefully. But having to answer questions makes him think for himself.
  • As he says what he should do, his brain is automatically creating a vivid mental picture of what he is saying. With repetition, this picture is transferred to his long-term memory, which is where habits are stored. Once the mental image is lodged in his long-term memory, it already feels like a habit. This influences his behaviour.
  • He is much more likely to do things right once he himself has said what he needs to do, in his own words.

Is preparing for success hard work?

When you first start practising a new skill, it probably won’t feel easy or comfortable. But if you decide to make the effort to practise this strategy, you will soon see very positive results – more cooperation, more self-reliance, more common sense, more motivation.

You might worry that you don’t have the time to do think-throughs. Actually, preventing problems before they occur takes less time than trying to get the situation back on track after your child has misbehaved.

Think how much time parents spend telling off, repeating, reminding, pleading, threatening and shouting, which leaves both the child and the parent feeling upset. Think-throughs will save you time.

Preparing for success is not only about think-throughs. It includes everything we can do to make it easier for children to succeed and cooperate, from putting hooks for their clothes where they can reach them, to arranging the environment so that an older child can concentrate properly on his homework without being distracted by a marauding toddler.

It is easier to prepare for success when you have clear rules and routines and I will be explaining how to establish (and follow through on) these in the next issue of Mr Fox.

Noël Janis-Norton is a learning and behaviour specialist with over 45 years’ experience in Britain and the United States as a head teacher, special needs advisor, consultant, lecturer, parenting coach, speaker and author. She is the founder of Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting, resources that can help you and your family, from books and CDs to parenting courses, workshops, fortnightly talks and private consultations (at the Centre or by telephone).

Her new book, Calmer, Easier, Happier Boys is out now.