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Early lesson in good behavior tamps down a temper tantrum

I had a personality conflict with one of my grandchildren the other day during which I was insensitive to his feelings, used my size advantage to physically overpower him, and lowered his self-esteem at least five points on a scale of ten. Afterwards, he apologized.

Holden is 3 and one-half, the youngest of six, all of whom live within minutes of us, so we see them frequently. His mother—daughter Amy—has told me Holden can be stubborn, but I’d never seen evidence of it. Until the other day, that is. Holden had been left with me in my offices, which he pretty much has the run of when he’s there. Childproofing has a wonderfully calming effect on the adult brain.

After ten minutes or so of not hearing from him, I went looking and found him sitting at the kitchen table, coloring. I returned to my work. Ten minutes later, I checked in on him, to find that several crayons had fallen to the carpet. No harm done. Did Holden want something to eat? Yes, he did. I told him to pick up the crayons while I fixed him something really super-good, like pitted dates with walnuts and Asagio cheese. Well, something along those lines anyway. As I was about to hand him his gourmet treat, I noticed that the crayons were still on the carpet.

“Holden,” I said, “pick up the crayons and then I’ll give you your snack.”


“Say what?”


This time, he folded his cute little face into a defiant pout and crossed his arms across his chest, like a turtle going into its shell. I love a challenge, especially from a child. In this case I was aware that sooner or later Holden and I were going to have this confrontation. I was rather glad, actually, that it was sooner. I also know that if you give a child an inch, the child will take a mile, and that the best time to deal with this and put things in proper perspective is the first time it comes up. So I walked behind his chair, pulled it gently away from the table, hoisted him out of it, and took him to the crayon-ground. I put my right hand over his right hand and put our hands on one crayon—up it came—then another, and so on. Then I stood up, still holding him, and put him back in the chair. I stood in front of him. He was mad now! He was glaring at me!

I shook my finger at him and said, “You don’t say ‘no’ to me, Holden. Got that? You don’t say ‘no’ to me. You will sit in this chair until you tell me that you are sorry.”

And I walked off, busying myself with preparing a shipment of books. Holden sat for at least fifteen minutes, during which I said nothing to him, and he did his turtle-thing. Finally, he called to me.


“Yes, Holden?”

“I sorry.”

“Well isn’t that a wonderful thing! Now you can have your snack and color some more and stuff like that! I love you man!”

And Holden was a happy boy again. I doubt that sort of problem will come up between us ever again, but if it does, the procedure will be familiar to him. I did something similar to our first grandchild, Jack, when he was two and threw a tantrum at our house. In that case, I put him on a sofa and held him there until he stopped, telling him that at our house all tantrums had to be thrown on the sofa, and that I would gladly sit there with him until he stopped.

A year or so after this incident, a television person looking for scandal asked Adele Farber, the co-author of How to Talk So Children Will Listen and Listen So Children Will Talk, what she thought of what I’d done to Jack. She was appalled. I had certainly taught him, she said, that “might means right.” Ms. Farber will no doubt be greatly relieved to know that Jack, age 12, is a polite, respectful, well-mannered young man who is anything but inclined toward aggressiveness. He and I have lots of fun together.

I suspect things with Holden will turn out equally well.

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