The XX Factor

Parenting Advice for Democrats: How to Handle the Republican Temper Tantrum

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
If Democrats give in now, he’ll just be emboldened to go on TV more, and everyone loses.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

It is now Day Four of the federal government shutdown, and with the shifting rationales, histrionics, and likelihood of future misbehavior, it has become quite clear that, as with the shutdown in 1995, this is a straight-up Republican temper tantrum. And who knows better how to handle a temper tantrum than the parenting experts? As Parenting explains, tantrum-throwers “think they’re the center of the universe,” and tantrums often occur because “sharing is so difficult.” Sounds like the Republicans we know who are shutting down the government rather than include more people in our health care system!

So what kind of advice can Obama and the Senate Democrats take from the parenting experts on how to defuse a tantrum that’s underway? This list from WikiHow has some useful tips.

Remain calm enough to handle the tantrum properly. Luckily for the Democrats, they have “No Drama Obama” leading the way. This matters a lot, because as WikiHow points out, throwing a tantrum in the face of a tantrum can only cause things to escalate.

Remember that your child’s tantrum is NOT necessarily a way to “get his way” but could be the result of frustration, lack of needed attention from you, or even a physical problem, like low blood sugar, pain or digestive problems! We’re quite sure Republicans are getting enough naps, but this is nonetheless good advice. While there are “true believers” on the Hill, plenty of Republicans are less worried about getting their way on health care than they are afraid of Tea Party radicals trying to remove them from power. Not the Democrats’ problem to fix, but something to keep in mind during negotiations. Providing a few healthy snacks couldn’t hurt either. 

Do not reward the tantrum. As WikiHow explains, “If you allow yourself to be held hostage by tantrums, your child will continue to use them long past the age when they would otherwise cease.” Giving into this Republican tantrum means they will continue to look for every opportunity to hold the government or the economy hostage to extract further demands. As any parent knows, no matter how tempting it is to give them what they want to shut them up, you’ll just be paying for it down the line.

Explain to the child that you will talk to him or her when he or she calms down. Let Eric Cantor tweet as many petulant pictures as he wants of himself and his fellow tantrum-throwers demanding attention, but let it be known there will be no discourse until the tantrum is over and a reasonable federal budget is passed.

Avoid trying to reason with any child who is in the middle of a full-blown tantrum, especially in a public place. There will be many attempts by cable news to get Democrats to try to plead their case and reason with Republicans on-air. But you cannot reason with unreasonable people, whether they be dyspeptic toddlers or publicly elected grown-ups. Instead, WikiHow suggests expressing empathy for their feelings with phrases like, “You must feel frustrated that you can’t have what you want right now.” 

Discuss the behavior with your child once the tantrum has ended. While Democrats have no need to make sure Republicans feel “you love him or her regardless,” this advice could still help Democrats post-shutdown. “Explain that the behavior is unacceptable,” perhaps, and then make it clear that you will be willing to work with Republicans going forward “regardless.” This will frame the tantrum as an isolated behavior and reduce its likelihood of happening again. If only.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the government shutdown.