An ice-cold cure for a raging toddler

Dear Amy: I need to respond to the questions in your column about how to handle toddler tantrums.

I was a screaming toddler 50 years ago. My mother took nothing from anyone, especially me. Tantrums were simply not tolerated.

One day, as I stood there screaming, I watched her as she calmly put an ice cube in a glass, then filled it about an inch full of water, swished the cube around so the water was good and cold, took the cube out, stood back and threw the cold water swiftly over the front of me.

I stopped screaming abruptly, and she said, “You were getting awfully hot.”


Next time I saw the cube go in the glass, I stopped crying, knowing what would happen, and never got hysterical again. Years later, it worked for my son too.

Peggy in Maryland

Dear Peggy: Scores of readers have written saying that throwing cold water in the face of a screaming toddler is the way to respond to a tantrum. I don’t advocate this, though I do think your mother was clever to provide a visual cue (the cube going into the glass) to give you time to simmer down.

I took this question to one of my favorite child experts, Dr. Joshua Sparrow. Dr. Sparrow says, “A child in a full-blown tantrum is in the throes of an inner storm. She can’t think straight and can’t be reasoned with. Her emotions -- frustration, disappointment, anger and confusion -- have temporarily become physical sensations that have a grip on her mind and her body.


“Sometimes comfort, holding and cuddling will help, although often the child needs to work to comfort herself before she can be comforted by a parent. In some cultures, parents will sprinkle a few drops of water on a child’s face to try to break through the overwhelming physical sensations of a tantrum.

“Often the best approach is to step back (making sure the child is safe), and remain present but disengaged. Manage the tantrum without demonstrating anger or aggression, which is bound to intensify the tantrum and interfere with the learning process that goes on during tantrums -- the gradual mastery of self-control.”


Dear Amy: Every summer, I teach a small art class to some of my daughters’ friends. It’s casual and fun.


This year, I know that one of their friends, “Cheryl,” will want to join. We all like Cheryl -- in small doses.

She’s rambunctious, doesn’t listen and isn’t good in a structured setting.

My daughters don’t want her in the class, and I’m worried about how she would change the tone of the class.

The problem is that her mom and I are good friends, and I don’t know how to tell her this. It hasn’t come up, but I know it will soon.


Any advice?

Grandma Moses

Dear Grandma: You -- and not your daughters -- should be in charge of enrollment. Keeping this in mind will prevent this from becoming a girlfriend thing. Think of it as a classroom management issue.

If you think this child’s presence would be a detriment to the others, you can recommend another art program to her mom. Say, “I honestly don’t think I can manage ‘Cheryl’ well in the class, but I’ve looked at other art programs and there’s a good one at the community center.”


Including Cheryl could work, however, if you ask her mom to help during class.


Dear Amy: I’m one of those very sensitive people who is bothered by the many noises and activities of a crowded office.

I simply paid a visit to my local sporting goods store and purchased earmuffs used for shooting-range practice.


I’m still aware of my surroundings, but the earmuffs mask out all the annoying noises. Best $10 I ever spent.


Dear Barbara: These earmuffs would also come in handy if you want to visit the shooting range during your lunch hour.

Send questions to Amy Dickinson by e-mail to or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.