April 26, 2000
How To Control Your Toddler Boss

A *FootNotes* Exclusive!
How To Control Your Toddler Boss
(When He Is Unable To Control Himself)
~ By SecraTerri ~

Losing your temper means losing control. And losing control means losing a part of yourself.

At least ... that's how it can feel sometimes. Regardless of your age.

If losing your temper is a frightening experience for an adult, just imagine how much more frightening it is for your toddler boss, who has not yet had a chance to fully develop his anger-management skills.

One of your jobs as his parent Executive Assistant is to help your toddler boss experience intense emotions  --  such as frustration, sorrow, shame, jealousy, and most especially anger  --  without losing that vital sense of self, until he has acquired the necessary tools to help him manage these emotions himself.

(Or until you get a call back on that résumé you sent out this morning: whichever happens first.)

Here are some tips that may help:

  • Acknowledge him.
    Simply saying "Yes, I see you, and yes, I understand that you are angry" is an important first step. This allows your toddler boss to retain his sense of *self* and personal dignity, while his out-of-control emotions play themselves out.

    (Yeah, I see you glaring at me from across the hall. But I am not looking at you. See me not looking at you? Oh wait: in order for me to see you seeing me not looking at you, I would have to actually be looking at you. And I'm not. Looking at you, I mean. See?)

  • Reassure him.
    Remember: his loss of control can be just as frightening and bewildering to your toddler boss as it is to you. Reassure him that everybody feels angry sometimes ... and that you know it can be a very scary thing, no matter how old you are.

    (Or how many professional licenses you have hanging upside down on your office wall. )

    Even if he isn't interested in your comfort or reassurance at that moment ("Shut my door on your way out! SHUT it! SHUT IT!"), try to still maintain proximity and visibility. He will derive comfort from the mere sight of you sitting nearby, even if he is unable or unwilling to communicate with you in a rational manner just yet.

  • Reinforce him.
    Praise any effort on your toddler's boss' part to control his emotions, however small or insignificant it may seem. 

    ("I see that you've stopped snapping your pens in half. That's very very good. Now let's work on gluing your coffee cup back together."

    This will encourage him to try harder in the future, for the reward of your approval,  which -- although he may not yet have the words to tell you so  -- is very important to him.

  • Help him.
    Often a temper tantrum is triggered by your toddler's boss' inability to complete simple motor-skills tasks, such as opening or closing a door, feeding himself, dressing or undressing, or manipulating ordinary objects. Calmly performing the task for him ("The staples load from the top, OK?") is sometimes all it takes to calm him down and get him back on track emotionally.

  • Soothe him.
    Try speaking to him in a quiet monotone. It doesn't really matter what you say to him: it is the comfort of your voice, speaking in a non-threatening manner, that will get his attention and calm him. Reciting nursery rhymes is good. So are nonsense syllables, Dr. Seuss, simple poetry, Bible verses, or familiar television commercial jingles. 

    (Or try reading him that *newly-revised revision of the revised draft agenda.*)

    The important thing is keeping your voice at a soothing pitch, free of vocal inflections.

  • Nurture him.
    A nutritious snack ... a cup of fruit juice ... a brisk walk in the park, followed by a thirty minute nap ... all of these physical comforts can do wonders to transform even the most unreasonable toddler boss into a calm and rational person again.

    (And if that doesn't work, schedule him another four-hour "business lunch." )

  • Teach him.
    Show your toddler boss, by example, that there are more appropriate methods of channeling his anger than slamming doors, stomping his feet, biting, hitting, kicking or using vulgar language.

    ("Look, Franz! I am putting your 'newly-revised revision of the revised draft agenda' into the shredder!  We call it 'Confetti Therapy!'")

  • Distract him. 
    Bright colors, funny faces, unexpected noises, new toys ("This is called a 'pencil sharpener' ") ... all can serve as effective distractions when your toddler boss is having difficulty regaining his emotional balance. The key here is the element of surprise. In the heat of even the most violent of tantrums, what toddler boss could help but be surprised  --  and delighted  -- by a pretty balloon or an amusing Donald Duck impression? (Or a sudden noisy wet *raspberry* to the belly button?) Try it! It may be just the touch of spontaneous silliness that diffuses the tension and saves the moment.

    (Or gets your Executive Ass arrested. But that's another story for another day.)

  • Confuse him.
    This is another form of distraction ... albeit more subtle.

    The trick here is not to confuse him to the point of disorientation, or frustration, or heightened agitation. He's already there. What you want to do is force him to stop and puzzle his way through a confusing situation or statement ... just long enough for some of his anger to dissipate.

    (Franz, I need your input on the company picnic. We've got to start planning it now if we want to get the best vaccination rates. I've circled some calendar choices in your book and made some preliminary calls this afternoon to the mortician, and he thinks that if we keep the headcount around 45 to 50, tops, we should all be able to fit into the trunk of the Volkswagen without any problem. As long as we're all naked, that is, and nobody brings their dog. What do you think?)

  • When all else fails ... ignore him.
    When you've exhausted every other solution ... when you've tried every trick and tip in your arsenal ... sometimes the only thing you can do is ignore him.

    In other words: just walk away and let his anger wind down, without any help from you.

    It may seem a little cruel. It may sound like bad parenting Executive Assituding. But it is also remarkably effective when used occasionally, because it forces your toddler boss to see that you may not always be interested in cleaning up after him ... figuratively OR literally.

    (Sorry, Franz. As much as I would love to stay and mop the lunchroom with my hairbrush again ... it's National SecraTerri's Day. And I am OUT of here.)

throw a rock