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I'm Out of Here

Years ago I worked with a very gifted teacher and administrator who had worked for years as a server in restaurants. He told me that he and his other server colleagues would fantasize about becoming enraged at a terrible customer, flipping over their table, and storming out of the restaurant, never to return.


Gamers of all ages know the term "rage-quit". In co-operative play when a person gets upset and frustrated a common way to respond is to rage-quit, or abruptly leave the team, group or game in the middle of a shared activity. This can be problematic because it often puts the remaining players at a competitive disadvantage.


The other day I watched two children in my neighborhood playing together. In the middle of play one child got upset and loudly said, "I'm in!" and stormed back to his house and slammed the door. The other child seemed unfazed and moved on to the next thing.


What do these three scenarios have in common? All of them are examples of a tantrum. The message is, "I didn't get what I wanted, so I'm out of here!" This behavior is developmentally appropriate for children up to about 4 years of age. Beyond that age it looks more bizarre.


Thankfully my friend knew that flipping over a table might be immediately satisfying but disastrous to his career and livelihood. Behavior like that would negatively mark him as a worker, and it would be very difficult for him to get another job. Also, he would be instantly fired. The gaming community has developed strategies for dealing with rage-quitters. Such players get banned from games or develop a negative reputation so that no one will game with them.


What happened with the two kids in my neighborhood? Last I saw they were happily playing together a couple hours later. It didn't immediately phase me either that they were playing together after such an abrupt rage-quit, but now I think it should have. At what age should we begin to expect more from kids, and are we doing them a disservice by not addressing such behavior right now? Perhaps this was a normal routine for these two kids, but the same behavior can obviously threaten one's quality of life in the future.


The truth is I cannot recall being taught what to do in an interpersonal situation where I wanted to "take my ball and go home," as it is sometimes called. Teaching kids to monitor their emotions, control their impulses, and perform productive behaviors or routines in high intensity interpersonal situations can be daunting, but I think it is necessary to try. The opportunity to inadvertently create another generation of rage-quitters seems ever-present, and techniques such as normalizing or overlooking such behavior in children gets us closer to that end. At the very least, let your child know that society will punish this kind of behavior, and there are other, more satisfying ways to deal with such situations.

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© 2020 by Andrew Schlegelmilch