For several weeks, my toddler insisted on wearing socks. The only times he didn’t wear them was when he took a bath, but once he finished, he asked to wear a new pair right away. Granted, the weather was cold, so I figured he appreciated the extra warmth on his feet. Or I assumed he didn’t like walking around barefoot, especially since he doesn’t have flip flops he could easily slip on like I do. I even wondered whether he had sensitivity issues with his feet and was averse to strange textures, but I told myself that worrying can’t be all that good for me and dropped that theory fast.

And so we obliged his sock-wearing. Until for some reason, my husband and I started getting annoyed at his constant request for socks, or rather refusal to go barefoot. So, wonderful parents that we are, we resorted to these ingenious methods of trying to coerce him to peel the socks off. We:

  • made a huge fuss about how awesome walking barefoot or wearing sandals are;
  • dived into heavy logistics explaining why we don’t always have to wear socks;
  • ignored him; and perhaps the best one of all,
  • made a joke of it and took a sock off despite his protests.

Diffuse tantrums by not making a big dealYou can imagine how all those tactics turned out. The kiddo didn’t understand what the big hoopla was with walking barefoot, regardless of his parents’ insistence. He also neither cared nor understood any explanations as to why we don’t always wear socks. He certainly didn’t appreciate being ignored, and we unfortunately disrespected him by not only having a laugh at his expense, but invading his personal space.

Yikes.

I then wondered why socks all of a sudden became such a huge issue in this house. Sock-wearing isn’t exactly the biggest crime, and I couldn’t imagine him wanting to wear socks every minute into adulthood. It was then that I realized that it’s not a big deal, and that perhaps the best way to ease him into walking barefoot (especially with summer coming along) was to treat decrease its importance.

A few weeks ago, I interviewed therapist and SSBE reader Kim Peterson as we discussed separation anxiety, and I especially liked her tip about not making a big deal out of leaving your baby or toddler. You will want to say goodbye instead of sneaking out of course, but she also says,

Try your best not to express your own worry or angst about leaving when it’s time to say good-bye. Show them there is nothing to fear.

Even though she’s talking about saying goodbyes and fears, I realized how this “not making a big deal” technique can apply to just about anything that would easily lead to yet another outburst.

So I tried it. I was changing him out of his footed pajamas—which he doesn’t wear with socks since his feet are already covered—when he asked, as usual, to don the socks. I casually responded, “Oh, it’ll be hot today, we can walk barefoot.” He seemed taken aback by the response, and later tried again: “Want to wear socks?” and I responded, “Well, why don’t we try going barefoot right now. See? Mama’s barefoot. Then if you really don’t like it, then we can put socks on.”

Well, wouldn’t you know it, the kid walked around without socks the whole day.

I’ve since applied this technique to other demands he has made. For instance, just as I had already set our dinners on the table, he tested, “Want to sit on that side,” pointing to any other spot than the one with his plate. But when I respond casually with, “You wanted to sit on that side? Darn, I already set the table, but we’ll set your plate on that side for breakfast.”

Another time, he wanted to take a stuffed toy with him to the bath. Rather than going into the logistics of stuffed animals soaking up water or making a big deal about the awesome (plastic) toys he could take with him, I simply replied, “Oh, you want bunny to go with you? He might not dry well, but tell you what—these Legos would dry really well in the bath.”

To diffuse crazy outbursts, I highly recommend the “don’t make a big deal” technique. Keep your tone light and casual, and more importantly, empathize and show that you’re on her side. Of course not every battle is diffused and your child might continue to fuss and make demands—that’s when you know that the issue truly is important to her, or she’s generally having a rough day to begin with.

Generally though, you may still be able to avoid outbursts and fighting with your kids by treading lightly and casually. Some issues aren’t not worth the fight; treat these petty issues for what they are—not a big deal.

Have you exacerbated an issue that originally began as something small? How does your response—whether light and casual, laughter, logistical explanations, ignoring, or outright parental takeover—determine how your child reacts?

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