There is no specific formula for children's fiction. There are, however, some necessities. Whether you are
writing a humorous picture book or a coming-of-age novel for young adults, you will need: a main
character, a setting, a problem or goal and a satisfying ending.
1) A main character
Develop protagonists that your readers will care about. Create characters that are the same age or a
little older than your target audience. Make them real, believable characters who make mistakes and
have embarrassing moments. Children aren’t perfect. They can’t identify with a protagonist who is. Give
her an obsession with worms or the inability to complete anything. Make him stumble and turn red
when a certain teacher comes near. Develop a character who is real enough to be living next door.
Your setting has to be clear, but incidental. This is where ‘show, don’t tell’ comes into play. Weave an
awareness of the setting through action and dialogue. Don’t allow description to put the brakes on your
pace. Children’s eyes tend to glaze over when faced with blocks of description. You may write a beautiful
paragraph about a mountain backdrop – save it. Use it for your next adult novel.
3) Problem or goal
This is your plot. Give your character a problem, or a wish. Push him gently toward the solution to his
problem or the fulfilment of his goal. Then toss in an obstacle. He must overcome it using his own
ingenuity and/or skill. When he’s succeeded, throw him another one and then maybe a third. You can
make things really interesting by making each hurdle a little higher than the last. The most important
thing here is to allow the protagonist to conquer his own problems or achieve his own goals.
4) Satisfying Ending
One aspect of a satisfying ending calls for a change in your main character. He must learn something,
accept something or experience some emotional growth.
Your ending doesn’t always have to be ‘happily ever after’ but it must be ‘tight’. The loose ends must be
tied up and all characters accounted for and placed in reasonable situations. It is best to avoid lingering
questions at the end of a children’s book.
You don’t want to hear:
“So what happened to the guy with the yellow belt?” or “But that kid was in Africa, so how did he get
You do want to hear:
“Aaaaaaah. I get it.”
Breast milk is the greatest form of fast food known to a mother. No sterilizing, no heating, no bottles. A
quick flick of a button and Baby has the perfect meal anywhere, anytime. By the time my firstborn was
a couple of months old I was relaxed and confident with breastfeeding, even in public.
It wasn’t always so.
Until my first post delivery luncheon date, Baby and I had only been out of the house for one sprint-
and-grab grocery shop. I don’t remember tossing those pickled anchovies in my cart, but that may have
been after my child’s eyes fluttered open. The curried creamed corn probably jumped in as the first
whimper escaped her lips and I’m sure the tofu ice cream was mistakenly lobbed into the wrong cart by
a passing vegan. As I galloped to the checkout counter, I knew I had exactly four and a half minutes to
fill my child’s quivering mouth before a full throttled screech would erupt. We hurried home.
A few days later, a single, childless friend invited Baby and me to lunch. I was nervous but in desperate
need of adult conversation not consisting of diapers, sleep and poo consistency. I accepted.
An hour before my luncheon date, I left the house with two bags and a backpack. They were crammed
with diapers, four changes of clothes for myself and seven for the baby, nursing pads, “moist
towelettes”, Children’s Tylenol, baby powder, baby oil, a towel, various toys suitable for a two-year-old
and a baby brush which I’d only used once as it had left red stripes on my baby’s scalp. My daughter
snuggled in a sling across my front.
I reached the crowded eating area at the shopping center and checked my watch. Perfect timing! Baby
wouldn’t be ready to eat until Peg arrived. As it was to be the first time I breast-fed in public, I would
feel less vulnerable if I exposed my breast while immersed in scintillating conversation.
I found a table and sat down. I adored my quiet baby as she slept. Her perfect ears, her tiny fingernails,
the small bubble that formed on her top lip. I looked at my watch.
I eavesdropped on the arguing couple at the next table. I looked at my watch.
I sent the waitress away for the third time, looked at my watch and noticed with a belly-flutter that
my child was stirring.
Peg was late. Baby started to grumble.
Peg was later. I started to grumble. Baby started to whimper.
Peg became a close range target in my mind’s dartboard. I whimpered. Wet stains were spreading across
my chest. Baby was screeching.
I had no choice. I had to do this alone.
Tantrums don't suddenly appear. They are learned. Controlling or eliminating tantrums is not
complicated, but it is hard work. It will be easier if you keep one simple premise in mind:
Tantrums aren't personal. Toddlers and pre-school children don't throw tantrums because they want
to be naughty. They don't scream and yell because they want to hurt you. Children throw tantrums
because they work. It is your job to make tantrums fail.
"Can I have a lollipop?"
This sentence has the power to invoke a racing heart and sweating palms in many parents.
The answer is no. The child raises her voice.
The answer is still no. The child drops to the floor.
The answer turns into a discussion and the child's voice increases in volume. The tears flow, the shrieks
begin and, after a few parental self-conscious glances at near by shoppers … the answer becomes yes.
What makes the child in the next aisle accept 'no' with a shrug of the shoulders or a nod? Why is your
child the one who throw tantrums?
There is no easy answer to this question, but there are some patterns of thinking and practical methods
that you can use to break the cycle.
It is a simple, yet powerful fact. A child's behavior can be modified. Rewarding a behavior will increase
the occurrence of that behavior. Ignoring it will decrease and often eliminate the behavior.
A child who throws tantrums gets this message: If I yell loud enough and long enough, I'll get what I
The message you want them to get is: It doesn't matter how long or hard I yell, I'm not going to get
what I want.
The tantrums may be just developing. They may have been an unhappy part of family life for months or
even years. Whatever the situation, if they're still happening, they're working.
So, how do you start?
* Commit yourself. When you decide to eliminate tantrums from your life, you are not fighting your
child. You are in a battle for the good of your child. You will create a more peaceful home environment
and closer relationships within your family. You will also teach your child self-discipline. This is a vital
skill when dealing with society. Teachers, bosses and most friends will not crumble under the weight of
your child's demands.
Tantrums won't disappear immediately. If your child is just beginning to learn the components of a
truly inspired tantrum, you may not have far to go. A few unwavering sessions may be all that is
needed. If, however, your child has been honing his tantrum technique for months or even years, success
may take a little longer. Even so, with consistency and perseverance, it will work.
* Identify the triggers. When do most tantrums occur? Are they sparked by bedtime? Meal times? When
shopping? While you are on the phone? Make a list and be aware. Figure out ways to help your child
succeed. If eating dinner is a problem, give her tiny portions. If too much TV is a problem, offer more
* Clarify the rules to yourself. Before you enter a tantrum-triggering zone, make sure that your rules
are reasonable and consistent. There are no compromises at this stage. If your child refuses to eat
dinner but insists on dessert, choose one phrase. "Dinner, then dessert." This way, when the begging
starts or questions are fired at you, you can respond with a simple, sanity-saving comment, almost like
* Clarify the rules to your child. Before entering a situation that is likely to provoke a tantrum, quietly,
but firmly explain what is expected of your child. "You may watch this program. When it is over, the TV
is turned off. Do you agree?" If a tantrum occurs when the TV is turned off after the program, your
phrase can be, "We agreed, no more TV today."
* Stay Calm. Easier said than done. Try to tune out. Try to ignore the unwanted behavior by not
responding or responding only with your practiced phrase. A child will realize that she's getting
nowhere and be confused. She'll turn up the heat. The cries may become screeches and the dinner may
be thrown across the room (although it might be a good idea to remove the dinner after a few refusals,
just in case). That's OK. She's getting the message. If you do not react, she will eventually realize. The
tantrum isn't working.
* Don't give up. This is imperative at this stage. If you usually give in after five minutes and this time,
you held out for ten, next time you're in for a longer stint. In your child's mind, the tantrum still
worked, she just had to work a little harder. So will you.
* Reward immediately. If you stick with it, eventually your child will see that the tantrums no longer
have any effect. As soon as you see the tiniest improvement, offer a reward. I don't mean to change
your rules. If your child screams for only two minutes instead of three and then agrees to turn off the
TV, don't reward her with more TV. She will be confused. You will be sending her a mixed message.
Reward her with a story or a walk or a cuddle. "You cried much less today than you did last time. Good
Taming tantrums is challenging and rewarding. Be gentle with yourself. There will be setbacks and days
when things seem worse. It can be difficult but it's temporary. When your child's eyes begin to shine
through the haze of anger and frustration, you will agree. The long-term benefits are worth it.
For additional samples of
my writing, please visit my
Children's Stories – the Essentials
Tantrums – Breaking the Cycle