It Good You Don’t Know What to Do

We had a great group of parents and grandparents at our Parenting the Love and Logic Way 

session last week! As we talked about handling tantrums and meltdowns, it became clear to me how effective our kids are at making us feel at a loss for what to do. Most of the questions during the question and answer session started with, “What do I do when…”


Somewhere along the way we got the idea that being the parent and having a 20-year head start on life should mean we have all the answers! What if I told you it might be good that you sometimes don’t know what to do!

The very idea that a four year old could challenge the wisdom of someone with much more experience gets under our skin. But they do! “Why can’t I eat candy for breakfast?” they ask. “I don’t need a coat,” they insist. Then the reasons why they don’t want to do something start flowing like Niagara Falls.


If you don’t know what to do, just go brain dead. Don’t participate in the argument. Let that sound of uncertainty escape from your mouth and don’t even try to answer the questions. “Ohhhhhh,” you can say like Lurch on the Addams Family. If you must use words, use only a few. Answer each question and objection with, “I know,” said slowly and with complete calm.

Since your authority has been challenged, it will be tempting to leak your sarcasm all over your precious child. Resist. Express your empathy instead. Use your sad eyes instead of your mad eyes. Think to yourself, “Here we go again, this is so sad.” Then say it again: “Ohhhhh.”


Will your child thank you for having no response? No, it will probably make her mad. Over time he will learn that you’ve decided to quit arguing with a four year old. It’s like talking to a fence post anyway.


If you find yourself responding with anger at the challenge or the misbehavior, buy yourself some time. Rather than engage your old faithful lecture or warning, try saying, “Ohhhhh, that is so sad. I’m going to have to do something about that but not now; I’m too angry.” The calmer you can say it, the more self-control they will observe. If they haven’t rattled you to the point of exasperation, they may begin to realize they have a problem. Then, when you are calmer, let a consequence occur that costs them something. “I just don’t have the energy to take a child to the store when I have to worry about them melting down in the floor when they don’t get their way.” Remember to lead with empathy and let your sadness come across rather than your anger.


Fighting words aren’t the only enemy to peaceful homes; any words you speak will fail when your child is rebelling instead of obeying. Actions will speak louder than words anyway. So save your words for the consequence and focus on your genuine disappointment over their misbehavior rather than your embarrassment. Why should you be embarrassed anyway? You aren’t the one who melted down in the store!

Dr. Matt Crain writes for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.