Imagination to the Rescue: My Last Resort for a Bad Tantrum


It’s an all too familiar scene. The day is winding down. After a nice evening of playing, eating, and reading books, that dreaded time of night is here. The sound of the kitchen timer signals to my daughter – “time for bed!” – and suddenly, our peaceful little night shatters into a hundred pieces. The realization seems almost slow motion at first. She pauses, looks up, eyes widen, and I can tell by the look on her face what is coming next. Tears. Big, loud, ugly tears. Another tantrum. We’ve tried all the usual tricks, but nothing works. But never fear, this time we’ll count on – imagination to the rescue!

I have a very strong-willed, empathetic, and imaginative newly four year old. Did I mention strong-willed?? Although these are some of her greatest qualities, these attributes can also make parenting incredibly frustrating at times. Once girlfriend makes up her mind, there is no turning back.

I’ve read a book or two on the topic of behavior in young children, and follow all the child psychologists on Instagram (okay, not all, but enough of them). So, clearly, I am an expert on the topic (being facetious here, in case that was lost on anyone). However, despite my lack of extensive formal training in child development, I understand the importance of emotional intelligence. I talk with my daughter about emotions quite frequently. Heck, she has become quite the expert in noting my emotions on her own – “Mommy, you weren’t frustrated this morning!!!” – when we get to school after a relatively peaceful morning where no one grumbled over shoes or coats or tripping on out of place toys. (Oops…) All this to say, I try to use the imagination method I’m about to discuss as my last resort. After I’ve acknowledged her frustration, labeled all the emotions, given all the choices, and feel my tank has almost run out – this is when I turn to imagination.

I should start by saying going down the path of imagination is a commitment. This task is not as simple as it was when she was two – picks up the stuffed animal on the bed and in the obvious high-pitched voice of an elephant, “Oh, sweet girl, better go brush your teeth!” Oh, no, she’s too smart for that now. Remember the vivid imagination? Sometimes she is so enthralled in playing it’s like she is living in a book. She is the narrator (and sometimes the main character) alongside her toy animal best friends. So this is our goal – get to that place in her beautiful little brain.

The first step, don’t make eye contact. Don’t make eye contact? You read it right. Once we have reached this phase in the tantrum, I can almost guarantee we are hearing – “Don’t look at me!!” and “Don’t talk to me!!” So I oblige.

Next, pick up a toy stuffed unicorn. I should mention that by this point we are up in her room. We likely gave up after several attempts to get her up the stairs and scooped her up to her bedroom where she is now laying on the floor, tears still streaming. Unicorn and I crawl over to my daughter’s dresser. She takes her little unicorn legs and “Uhhhh, I’m tryyyying to get this drawer open, but I’m not sure if I can do it myself” – the toy tries to pull open the pajama drawer to no avail. Unicorn tries and tries again. My daughter’s tears may start to slow, but I don’t dare make eye contact. Not yet. Unicorn decides to try her hind legs. Still no use. Of note, Unicorn has a continuous dialogue with herself throughout this ridiculous, desperate journey – “I need to get this drawer open for Emma’s jammies!!” I hear my daughter giggle, but still trying to hold it together. Finally, Unicorn tries all four legs together, turns in a circle, does a flip, calls over four more animal buddies for help, and the drawer opens the teeniest bit. My daughter runs to the dresser laughing, helps Unicorn open the drawer, picks out something to wear. VICTORY! She carries the heroes into the bathroom to brush her teeth, smiling all the way. 

This is one simple example of how we’ve used imagination in our house to help things run smoother in times of desperation, but the sky is the limit. Looking for a creative outlet, but haven’t found the time because parenting is, like, a lot?? Here’s your chance! The Academy Award for best performance of Robot Mommy Pajama Dressing Room Assistant goes to…you!

Break a leg!