Struggling with your child’s tantrums? Get a quick guide to handling tantrums and learn what to do when they happen.
I felt helpless. My son had been throwing a tantrum… for over an hour. Nothing worked. I tried soothing him to no avail. Completely ignoring him didn’t do the trick, either. I seem to leave every outing carrying a wailing toddler, making my quick getaway.
These tantrums aren’t stopping just yet. (Please tell me there’s no such thing as “The Terrible Three’s.”) But they’ve been much quicker than when they first made their grand entrance.
Because nowadays, most tantrums end in about five minutes and don’t seem as terrible.
One reason is his age: he’s growing up. With that comes better communication skills and more understanding of his emotions.
He’s also learning what tantrums are. He knows we’ll be there for him but won’t bend on his demands.
Another reason his tantrums have lessened may be because of us, his parents. Having “done our time,” we’ve gotten better about handling tantrums.
A Quick Guide to Handling Tantrums
I realized we’ve been relying on a process or pattern that seems to keep tantrums manageable. So I did some scribbling here, some laying out there, and came up with:
1. Your child starts to tantrum
Each child’s tantrum is different, but typically you’ll know a tantrum is beginning when your child loses all control, makes unreasonable demands, cries and even flails uncontrollably in anger and frustration.
2. Is he hurting himself, others or property?
Make sure your child isn’t hurting himself, other people or valuable things in the house.
3. If yes, remove him from the situation
Remove your child from the scene if he can potentially cause harm to others. Sometimes simply doing so can even calm him down. You may even need to contain him in a bear hug to keep him from hurting himself or others.
4. If not, is he able to be soothed nonverbally?
Nonverbal soothing such as rubbing his back and singing can help calm him down, but sometimes kids resist soothing and contact.
5. If yes, comfort him with a hug
During tantrums, kids can’t process logic and language, so try not to talk too much since your child can’t register much of what you say.
6. If not, ignore his demands and acknowledge his frustration
Often, the best cure for tantrums is simply letting it run its course. If your child makes unreasonable or “wishy-washy” demands, don’t give in. He won’t be satisfied, and trying to meet his needs may exacerbate the tantrum.
7. Your child calms down
You’ll eventually notice the calm after the storm as your child’s begins to die down. Don’t jump in too quick just yet—provide plenty of time for him to quiet down and “make the first move.”
8. Express empathy, talk and teach
Express empathy by honoring the impulse (“Looks like you were trying to see what would happen if you pulled the cord.”) and describing the emotions he feels (“Seems like you got mad when we told you to stop.”) Simply holding him and chatting can be all that he needs for now.
Only when he’s able to think logically will you be able to discipline (“We don’t pull the cord because it’s dangerous. Let’s find something else you can pull.”).
Every child is different so this guide isn’t a comprehensive, one-size-fits-all solution. But this process has helped our toddler cope with tantrums.
Removing him from the situation—even stepping to another room—was enough to calm him down. Before, attempting to temper his frustration right then and there made him angrier.
In reading The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. (affiliate link), I also empathized first before trying to reason with him. He seemed more compliant when he knew we were still “on his side.”
And I learned that holding and reassuring him of our love shortened the duration of the tantrums. Disciplining, reasoning, and even talking him “out of it” seemed to make them worse.
The biggest lesson I learned? Kids need our unconditional love. It’s easy to shower them with attention when they’re happy and pleasant. But we withhold our love when they’re “being bad.”
They’re sorting through new emotions and don’t understand why we’ mean during tantrums. When we lose our temper, yell or get upset, they might think we love them only when they’re happy. They learn that certain emotions can seem “bad” in their parents’ eyes.
This isn’t to say that their behavior is acceptable. Wanting to eat the dog’s food or dump a bucket of water onto the floor isn’t allowed. Establish limits and stick to it.
But you’re still on their side. So while their actions and behavior may not be good, your kids always are. And they need to know and feel that.
I may just be jinxing myself again here and end up with another tantrum the minute I publish this article. But I’ve been happy with the way we’ve handled his recent outbursts. Hopefully you’ll find the guide just as useful should you have a toddler throwing a tantrum.
Get more tips about handling tantrums:
- The 4-Step Solution to Tantrums
- How to Run Errands with Kids (And Not Go Crazy)
- Do You Know What to Do when Your Child Acts Out in Public?
- Small Habits to Improve Your Parenting
- Toddler Routines: How to Structure Your Day
Do you have a process for handling tantrums tantrums? How does your child react to soothing, talking and other methods of calming down during a tantrum?