Whether they’re two or fifteen, all kids have tantrums. Your child is working on navigating their big feelings. And that is tricky, for them and you.
When tantrums strike, it’s hard as the parent to not also fall apart. They’re screaming, kicking, falling to the floor. And you’re left feeling helpless and put on the spot.
But with some forethought and practice, you can tackle their tantrums and help your child better process those big feelings.
In this article, we’ll review what to do, both in the moment and before tantrums ever start, so you can minimize their impact and frequency. With these tips, you’ll help scale back those tantrums while they also learn valuable social-emotional regulation. Let’s jump in!
The tantrum is happening now...help!
So, I doubt you’re actually reading this in the middle of a tantrum. But just in case, let’s jump right into the best way to help your child process these emotions so that everyone can move on with their day.
Identify the problem
This isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but it is essential to moving forward. Your child needs to know that you understand why they’re upset.
Take a moment and think through the day. You are likely looking for two triggers — the immediate surface trigger and any underlying issues (tired, hungry, stressed, etc).
If you are trying to communicate with a toddler, you’ll want to echo back their feelings while identifying their problem — “You’re so mad because you’re banana broke. You didn’t want your banana to break.” (I’ve had this conversation too many times to count 😉). Sometimes just hearing you identify the problem is enough to calm down the situation.
For older children, it’s best to move on to the next step before chatting about the problem. And that is...
Wait out the emotional burst
Your child is not going to hear your reasoning through the noise of the tantrum. For toddlers, remove them from any danger and keep them from hurting others while they flail about. For your elementary kiddos and older, let them stomp off and have some time to themselves before you step in.
It may take a while for the height of the tantrum to play out. While you’re waiting, focus on yourself. Take some deep breaths and plan how you are going to respond. Being able to approach your child calmly is the key to helping them regulate their feelings.
Respond with understanding
If you have identified the immediate trigger, let your child know that you hear them. Knowing that you understand their frustration and where it’s coming from is important for moving forward. Even if you get it wrong, knowing that you’re trying may help open up communication.
After identifying the issue, start working through a solution. Stay calm and lay out their options. If they want something that you cannot give them right now, explain why. Just be sure to go beyond “because I said so.” Tantrums are exhausting, but keeping open honest communication helps build a stronger connection with your child.
Reach a resolution
Sometimes you may realize that you gave a quick “no” response without giving their request much thought. We all do it...you’re busy and it’s hard to always think through everything your child hits you with. If during your conversation you realize that you can help them, do it.
This doesn’t mean that you’re giving in to their tantrum. You’re modeling conflict resolution, and that is its own lesson. But you can still take this time to talk about their behavior and discuss better ways to express their feelings the next time they’re upset.
If what they want is not possible, talk through it. Remind them it’s ok to be mad. Remind them that you also get frustrated, angry, or sad when things don’t work out. And get specific here if you can, especially with your older child. Share your stories of disappointment with them, and how you were able to move on.
The main takeaway here — make sure your child knows that the emotion is ok, but not the tantrum.
4 ways to minimize your child’s tantrums
Not all tantrums can be prevented. But if your child’s needs are being met regularly, you will have fewer to navigate. Here are 4 things you can do to reduce the amount and intensity of your child’s tantrums.
Make sure your child is getting enough sleep
Sleep is so important for young children, but most are not getting enough. If you remember the newborn days, then you know how lack of sleep can make you feel: irritable, cranky, and less in control.
If your child is routinely falling short of the recommended sleep, explore some ways to increase their rest. Some toddlers may drop naps before they’re ready. And all kids seem to fight an early bedtime.
To help your child get more rest, try getting outside more often. Both the exercise and the sunshine can improve your child’s sleep.
It’s also a good idea to cut down on evening screen time. Try to replace TVs and tablets with arts and crafts. This doesn’t have to mean glitter and mess. Try our Wax Craft Sticks or coloring crafts for a stress-free art time for you and your kiddos.
Find a routine
When kids know what to expect, the days feel smoother. Keep hunger at bay by eating at regular times every day. And have extra snacks available for those times that they may start to feel “hangry.”
Young children are always in and out of growth spurts, so have healthy options available (like yogurt, fruit, or snack bars) to help keep tantrums and moodiness at bay.
It’s also great to keep a regular bedtime routine. It’s not always possible to have lights out by 8pm, especially as children get older. Squeezing in dinner after their sports practice can force a late bedtime. But make that the rare exception.
Sit down with your child and work through a daily schedule together. This will keep everyone on the same page and eliminate surprises that can damage a routine. By working together, they’ll know what’s expected of them and feel like they have a say in the day.
Practice different coping methods
While your child’s emotions are running high is not the time to introduce new breathing exercises. Coping techniques can make a huge difference in the amount and length of tantrums, but only if your child has practiced them before the tantrum strikes.
After everyone calms down from a tantrum is the perfect time to talk about different ways to cope with anger and disappointment. Breathing exercises are one example. Recognizing their underlying triggers before they get too big is another. Remind them to listen to their body.
- Do they need to get up and move? Try yoga or a quick run outside.
- Do they need to quiet their minds? A focused coloring session may do the trick.
- Do they need some time to recharge? Encourage them to take some time for themselves, away from the noise of the family space.
- Are they hungry? Ask them about what they’ve eaten today and offer something to hold them off until dinner time.
- Is there stress at school or at home? Let them know that you are there if they need to talk it out.
A lot of adults talk about needing more time for self-care. Let’s set up our children to take this time for themselves now so they can grow into healthier, well-adjusted adults.
No one wants to always be told what to do. If you are giving your child little choice in their day, pushback is guaranteed.
When possible, let your child make age-appropriate choices. For toddlers, this can be as simple as choosing which shirt to wear or which of their favorite bedtime books to read.
Older children should be even more involved in their daily routines. Let them choose dinner one night a week. Give them a choice of chores for the week. Encourage them to decide which subject’s homework they are tackling first. And then respect their choices.
As mentioned above, work together to set a schedule and expectations for the week. Give them as much say as possible and watch their daily moods improve.
Keep a positive mindset when working through tantrums
Your child’s tantrums are an important part of their development. They are exhibiting independence, and that is a great thing — even though it may not feel like it at the time.
Use the tips above to help your child work through and manage these episodes. Model emotional regulation and self-care and set your child up for a successful future.
The work we do as parents is so important. Celebrate your wins, but don’t stress when you also fall apart. We are always learning and growing, and you’re doing a great job!
Looking for a calming activity for your child (or for yourself)? Check out our FREE printables for a variety of coloring and activity pages and download your favorites today!