Do you feel overwhelmed and frustrated by your child’s tantrums? Learn exactly how to gently handle tantrums without losing your mind!
Toddlers (and young children – hey, even adults sometimes!) feel emotions passionately and intensely, yet little children don’t have the ability to control themselves. This often results in what we, as adults, would label as tantrums – little children with big, often scary (to them), emotions.
Many times we parents just want to quickly speed past the emotions to get everyone calm again, but unfortunately, this doesn’t work. Don’t worry – there are several things you can do to help your child before, during, and after a tantrum.
Before a tantrum:
The best way to handle tantrums is to prevent them!
What? Is this possible?
Do you remember the acronym HALT?
We’ve often heard that you should not do anything (or make major decisions) when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.
Well, toddlers and little children will be especially prone to meltdowns or tantrums when they are hungry or tired. If you try to ask your toddler to do something when she’s hungry or tired, you might be setting her up for failure.
There have been several times when I experienced my daughter’s explosive emotions and right in the middle of them I realized Oh, she’s hungry! or I know she desperately needs a nap!
I felt bad that I hadn’t recognized it sooner, but this enabled me to step in and give her what she needed right away (a snack or a calm spot to rest and cool down in order to nap).
Many times little children don’t (or can’t) tell you (with words) that they are tired or hungry. An easy way to possibly prevent a tantrum is to be proactive and help your child before he or she gets overly tired or hungry.
Related: 10 ways to prevent tantrums
During a tantrum:
I know, this is sometimes the hardest thing for you to do, but it is super important! Often my own emotions (anger, frustration, irritation, sadness, guilt) flare up when my daughter seems out of control.
Staying calm not only helps you but also your child, by being a safe haven for her and by modeling appropriate behavior to her (note: this will help in the long run, not necessarily immediately).
Related: How to be a calm mom
Keep Everyone Safe
If your child is hurting (or attempting to hurt) herself or others, gently stop or move one of them to keep everyone safe.
You can calmly remove your child and tell her that you can’t let her hurt herself or anyone else.
Everyone wants to feel understood. Toddlers and little children too! This is a very important step. Toddlers are small human beings with their own wants and preferences. This, plus the fact that they haven’t fully developed self-control yet, can make situations very challenging for them.
Who wants to be told what to do all day long? Yet, if you look at it from a toddler’s perspective that is what happens some days.
Acknowledge and Accept Feelings
Yes, you can’t possibly understand why she’s so upset over something so minor, but she still needs your help in learning to navigate difficult emotions.
Acknowledge that she’s upset and let her feel upset.
Once my oldest daughter cried because I pressed a button on a machine and didn’t let her (even though she didn’t tell me she wanted to!). I calmly acknowledged how hard that was for her.
You could empathize or just acknowledge feelings:
- I would also feel upset if I didn’t have a chance to press the button when I wanted to.
- I understand that you’re upset. I’m sorry you didn’t get to press it.
If necessary, give her a safe space to cry or be upset. I have gently carried each of my daughters out of public places several times when they were crying or screaming loudly. Then, I talked to them calmly in the parking lot and waited until they calmed down.
When you can give choices, your child feels like she has some control over parts of her life.
For example, I let my daughters choose what they want to wear each day. Sometimes they wear interesting combinations (to me) or choose to wear a fancy party dress when we go to the grocery store or swimming lessons. There’s no need for me to make a battle over this.
Lately, they’ve both been wearing fancy dresses every single day because they want to look like princesses. Why not? I save my energy for more important battles.
To summarize, these are the best steps for you to take during a tantrum:
- Empathize with your child (get down on her level).
- Acknowledge her desire and emotion.
- Give a choice (if possible).
- Set a limit (if necessary)
I know you really want to wear your green shirt, but you can’t because it’s in the washing machine right now.
After a tantrum:
When your child is calm, you can briefly review the incident and talk about what happened. This can help your child understand and reflect.
My girls and I often use little phrases (mostly from the Daniel Tiger PBS show) to remind each other how to act.
(“When you feel frustrated, take a step back and ask somebody for help.” “When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four.”)
Connect and love
Talk about what happened to help your child understand and talk about what to do when this situation comes up again:
When your sister tries to take your toys, instead of hitting her, call me and I will help you.
When my second daughter started crawling she would inevitably crawl toward my oldest and try to grab things. My oldest girl would get very irritated and frustrated sometimes and I had to repeatedly remind her to call me for help. Eventually, after lots of reminders from me, she
If I had to summarize everything involving tantrums, I would say that the 2 main things to remember during one are:
- Remain calm
- Empathize with and acknowledge your child’s feelings
Just a reminder: Empathy and acknowledging feelings does not mean that any behavior is ok. We can set limits if needed (“I’m going to move your sister away, as I can’t let you hurt her.”)
You CAN learn how to gently handle tantrums and remain calm while doing so. Work on staying calm, preventing tantrums when possible, acknowledging feelings and empathizing. Talking about the incident afterward can also help your child process. If you like this, please share and let me know your own tantrum taming tips!