If you start when they’re young enough, it turns out you can pretty much scare your kids into behaving any way you wish. Now I’m not talking about intimidating them physically. Corporal punishment just isn’t my thing.

But I’m totally in favor of messing with their malleable little minds.

So if you’re anything like me, and you’re looking for ways to stop tantrums dead in their tracks, try using this trusty all ages guide:

1. Reverse Time-out (Ages 2-3)
When the threat of a good old-fashioned time-out wears off, it’s time to flip things around on your precious little toddler. Dump that time-out mat off at the nearest consignment store. Instead, when your son starts heading for Tantrumville, shock him by putting yourself in a time out. He’ll be so surprised he’ll quickly forget why he lost his shit in the first place. Remember, a good rule of thumb is one minute of time-out per year of age. So go ahead and pour a nice glass of Pinot, throw some washable markers in his general direction, sit tight for 40 minutes or so … and enjoy your staycation.

2. Return Receipt (Ages 3-4)
When your kid’s still quite young, before she can read, you’ll want to lean on this strategy. If she starts getting too sassy or back talking too much, firmly repeat the following to quickly make her fall in line:“Have you forgotten that the return period is still in effect? According to this receipt we’re allowed to exchange you for another better-behaved child. So keep acting this way and we’ll take you directly back to the baby store.”

Works. Every. Single. Time.

Bonus Tip #1: It's best to actually keep a real recopy nearby to use as a prop.

Bonus Tip #2: When they start asking questions like "How much did you pay for me?" or "When does the return period end?" that's when you know you need to switch to the next strategy.

3. Sister Mary Margaret (Ages 5-7)
As your child gets a little older this will become your new go-to strategy. Sister Mary Margaret is a figment of my imagination and I’m positively delighted to share her with you. She runs a modest place in the country where parents can send little boys and girls who need a behavioral tune-up. I started by threatening to call Sister Mary Margaret for small offenses. That was enough to rattle my kids a bit. I can’t tell you how many pretend conference calls I had within ear shot of the offending child.

“Hi Sister Mary Margaret. It’s Jill Ginsberg. So sorry to have to call you about you know who again.”

“Yes, he’s still giving us trouble. He keeps refusing to take a bath”

“Hmm. So you think it’s time for him to come and stay with you for a while?”

“Anything else we should try first?”

“Oh, that’s a good idea. Okay, we’ll give him one last chance?”

“Yes, agreed, if it doesn’t work we’ll bring him next weekend. 2 pm on Saturday sounds fine.”

“Oh, by the way, are you still feeding the kids asparagus soup for dinner?”

“Wow, breakfast, lunch and dinner now? How delicious!”


Bonus Tip #1: A little weekend afternoon drive out to the country might be in order if your child just won’t fall in line. You can pretend you got lost and eventually go back home, but it will make a lasting impression. Don’t forget the suitcase!

Bonus Tip #2: When they start asking questions like “Are there ponies on the farm?” or “Does Sister Mary Margaret have a tire swing?” that’s when you know it’s time to upgrade to the next strategy.

4. Child Psychologist (Ages 8 and up)
When the kids are even older and wiser, it’s much harder to outsmart them. I’ve found the threat of scheduling them with a Child Psychologist to be remarkably potent. I’m fairly certain neither of my boys has any clue what a Child Psychologist does. But for some reason they wither up completely when I mention it.This threat works especially well for putting picky, bossy or messy kids in their place.

Bonus Tip #1: You can use this handy statement for just about any offense. Simply fill in the italicized words to suit your needs: “That’s it! We’ve decided to take you to see a Child Psychologist to finally get to the bottom of why you: are so nasty to your sister all the time/are such a picky eater/can’t seem to pick up after yourself/think you’re above the rules.”

Bonus Tip #2: It’s helpful if you have a discussion with your partner, in front of your children, regarding which Psychologist to see.“Well Ginny sent Max to Dr. Fredrickson for his picky eating issues and she said it fixed him right up. Only took 10 visits. Totally screwed up Max’s soccer schedule, but it worked.”

Note: Jill received her Parenting License from the distinguished University

of Don’t Make Me Count to Three where she majored in Unsolicited Advice.