Diffuse Outbursts by Not Making a Big Deal

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.


I then wondered why socks suddenly 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?


Nina is a working mom to three boys—a five-year-old and toddler twins. She blogs about parenting at Sleeping Should Be Easy, where she writes everything she's learning about being mom and all its joys and challenges. She also covers topics like how kids learn and play, family life, being a working mom and life with twins. Download her free ebook, "Time Management Strategies for the Overwhelmed Mom" for more tips.


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    CommentLuv badge

  1. Steph says

    I’ve noticed that if I respond like it’s no big deal and with the expectation that my daughter will respond well, things go much more smoothly. It’s like she can sense my calm and confidence and it transfers to her.
    Steph recently posted..Rotating Toys: Benefits and TipsMy Profile

    • says

      Good point Betsy. I recently had an incident with my toddler where I accidentally threw a small, light ball right smack at his forehead. From his face, you could tell that he thought it was funny, but my first reaction was to apologize profusely and check to see if he was okay. Based on my response, he reacted much more strongly, insisting that I kiss his boo boo, whereas a second ago, he thought it was the funniest thing ever!
      Nina recently posted..Diffuse outbursts by not making a big dealMy Profile

  2. says

    I heartily agree with this one (as usual)–but I’ve got to say, on the days that I’m cranky, I just cannot keep life in perspective. That means when I most need my kids to be agreeable and calm because of my bad mood, I instigate full-blown fits by not being agreeable and calm myself–which of course does nothing for my mood. Life goes much more smoothly on the days I have enough sense to remember how much of life is not a big deal.

  3. says

    And when that doesn’t work, the casually uttered lie usually does the trick.

    Just kidding. Kind of. Today, we were walking past the park on our way home from swim lessons and, sadly, did not have time to play at the park as we had somewhere to be. Greta kept asking if we could go to the park and I finally told her that it was closed and locked up. She stared at all the kids and parents in there for a beat and then said: “Those poor people are gonna be stuck in there forever, huh, Daddy?” Oh man, I felt like such a jerk…

    But, on the upside, we didn’t have to stop at the park and she didn’t throw a fit. So, it’s kind of a toss up! :)
    Yeti9000 recently posted..Quote of the day: Kate WinsletMy Profile

  4. Td blue says

    Your son’s obsession with socks is so cute! But I know how those quirky habits can drive us parents nuts. I kept your advice in mind this past week when my son threw hissy fits every time I tried to take his earplugs out. (He has to wear them bathing and swimming.). I cannot for the life of me understand why he wants to wear them all day. Maybe they make him feel grown up, but I’m looking for a diversion to distract him while I take them out. :)

    • says

      Oh man it’s always good to hear that I’m not the only parent with a kid who has a weird quirk they don’t want to give up lol! And yeah, why in the world do they want to wear socks and earplugs all day when it just doesn’t make sense?! I think you’re right in that they feel grown up, or that they have choices they can make. Hopefully Lane will get distracted so you can pull them out haha.
      Nina recently posted..22 non-parenting books every parent should readMy Profile