08/04/2013 10:31 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

What To Do With Sulking Children?

What to do with sulking children? Alamy

Almost from the moment they're born, children develop various tactics to drive their parents to distraction and/or drink. Not sleeping, sleeping too much, spinning out bedtime until 10pm, putting your phone down the toilet, whining, pleading and shouting 'Mummy is a poo' in the supermarket are just the tip of the iceberg.

But one of the most insidious methods of driving us crazy is sulking. As parents, we spend all our time trying to make our children happy. And a sulk is just a massive, ungrateful two fingers up to everything we do for them – all because some teeny weeny thing didn't go their way.

For example, my child sulked for a whole hour last week because we went to the POST OFFICE.
So what do you do? Cajole, laugh, sell them on eBay?


In the interests of research (and my own sanity) I asked parents what they do to shake kids out of their grumps – and got some pretty out there answers, from invisible kestrels and glove puppets to making a phone call with your shoe...


"An immediate change of scene helps, if possible – like a dark, locked cellar," jokes children's author Michelle Robinson.

"Tickle. Read a book for distraction. Desperately offer chocolate if you will JUST CHEER UP FOR FIVE FLIPPIN' MINUTES. Discuss memories of happier times, being careful not to mention zoo trips and the like for fear of making the grump worse when they demand to go back right this minute."

Jessica, a teacher and mother of two says: "When I was child I sulked and was told those famous phrases...'If the wind changes your face will stay like that...', 'If you stick that bottom lip out any further I'll turn you upside down and use you to shovel the snow'. Turns out there wasn't much sympathy in our house!

"As a teacher, I use stern words if necessary, but mainly jollying along or good old-fashioned ignoring. The latter leads to 29 children following you round singing 'Wayne's crying...' followed by increasingly shrill retorts of 'yes, thank you. I think we're all perfectly aware that Wayne's crying!'"

"Ignoring and talking very loudly and with lots of praise to a happy child that might also be around," suggests Vicky, a childminder from Northampton.

"Another tactic is to start doing something fun without them. Something they enjoy like cooking, sticking, Playmobil. They soon stop and join in. It IS exhausting though and quite often with my own two it can result in me losing the plot and shouting at them!

"Then, my daughter copies my shouty behaviour and tries it out on her friends and dolls so my tongue is bitten to death..."

Reverse psychology can work wonders, says Julia from Glasgow. "The sentence 'Rremember you are grumpy, so try not to laugh' helps a lot. 'Don't laugh – whatever you do, DO NOT laugh!'

However, other parents recommend slightly less hands-on methods.

"Ignore and get back to Facebook/Twitter," says mother of three Cath.

"It's chocolate and biscuits every time," says Ziggy. "If its really bad - a Mini Milk."

Or as Angela Johnson from Northumberland suggests: "Put the Youtube 'funny cats' video on for the umpteenth time and he will be laughing like a drain."

Clever distraction is also a tried and tested way to shift the mood of a serial sulker.
"I once found a guide to dealing with kids that suggested doing something a bit obscure that throws them," says mother of two Claire. "One of them was to pick up your shoe and pretend it's a phone. Making sure it's not on your foot at the time, of course - though that would probably amuse them more."

"I favour the tactic my husband calls 'spotting a kestrel'", says journalist Anna. "Something distracting and if possible, cheery, but not out of the ordinary. On no account make it clear that you are trying to cheer them up. That way, 'being grumpy' becomes a way of ensuring attention/treats/fuss."

"We called on Mr and Mrs Fizzlewizzle," says Wendy, mother of triplets. "They were plasticky Punch & Judy puppets that we renamed. I found they were really good at diverting my son out of a mood when I couldn't. It throws the child, but it also makes you take a step back from the major irritation you're probably feeling, and which isn't helping.

"Also, a book that helped (because my son was really, really contrary as a little 'un), was How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk. It's a bit American in style, but it contained some great tactics & nuggets of wisdom.

"It suggests you acknowledge what you see in your child, rather than telling them what you think you OUGHT to be seeing. For example, saying 'I wish we could do that, but...' rather than a stroppy 'No'..."

So it seems that if you've got a sulky pants on your hands, anything is worth a try. But often when you're dealing with a young grump, it's sometimes comforting to get a long range view from parents who have been there, done that.

"Just suck it up and deal with it," says one dad. "My son was terrible, but he turns 23 at New Year and he's a lovely lad."

And I suppose if you can't wait until they're 23, there's always this...