Tips for Handling Temper Tantrums

While temper tantrums are common and natural for children, they can be very frustrating and seem embarrassing for parents. Trying to reason with and calm down an upset child can become overwhelming. Children have strong emotions and feelings just like adults, but they haven’t learned how to control their emotions and talk things out. Here are some tips for avoiding tantrums.

Tips to Help Avoid Tantrums:

  • Make sure you child is getting enough sleep each night and/or taking a daily nap.
  • Try to have a consistent routine so your child knows what to expect and feels safe and in control.
  • If your routine is going to change for the day, tell you child about the change so they know what to expect.
  • Give you child warnings or countdowns before switching activities. For example, if Johnny is playing with his blocks while you are cooking dinner, give Johnny a countdown till dinner is finished so he is not surprised when he has to stop playing.
  • When running errands, make sure your child has a toy or book to keep them occupied. You can also turn some errands into games to keep you child from becoming bored and temperamental.
  • A hungry belly can lead to an irritable child. Try and keep snacks in your car or purse in case your child becomes hungry.
  • Allow your child to have some control over situations. For example, let them choose the snack for the purse or the toy to bring to the store. We can try to avoid things that create tantrums for children, but chances are no matter how on top of snacks and routines we are, children are still going to have some tantrums. This is natural and workable.

Here are tips for working with your child before tantrums, during tantrums, and after the tantrum.

Before the Tantrum:

  • Learning to control emotions is the same is learning ABC’s for young children. Your child needs to practice calm down techniques every day! (For more information on Calm Down Techniques please see Tips for Working on Emotions)
  • Do not only teach calm down techniques when your child is in a tantrum. Work with them while they are calm and relaxed on learning about, exploring, and controlling their emotions.
  • Practice having problems and finding solutions with your child for little things so it will be easier when it is something that matters to them.
  • Make a Cozy Corner for you child. This will be spot in the house for calming down. (For more information please see How to Create a Cozy Corner)

During the Tantrum:

  • When you see you child is becoming frustrated, talk to them and explain they are becoming emotional. Tell them when they are so angry or sad it is hard to work on things and fix the problem they are having. Let them know it is time to use our calm down techniques to we can get our bodies in control and find a solution together.
  • Validate your child’s feelings in the situation. Let them know it is okay to be sad or mad, but we need to express that with our words and not our bodies.
  • Do the calm down techniques with you child. This will remind them what to do and make them feel more comfortable having you as a guide.
  • Remind your child to use words so you can understand them and help them.
  • If your child is so upset they are not able to work with you on their calm down techniques and/or use their words, guide them to their cozy corner and give them some time to get those strong emotions out. Allow them to cry in their safe spot and tell them when they are finished that you will be there to help them. There is no right time for letting you child cry in their cozy corner and every child cries at different lengths.

After the Tantrum:

  • Once your child has clam down and is able to work on the problem, it is time to talk to them. It is helpful to talk to your child about what happened and work on problem solving with them.
    • First ask you child how they are feeling and help them identify the big emotion they just went through. ( Ex: You had tears in your eyes and were stomping your feet. You had a big emotion. Were you sad or mad because of not being able to ride your bike?)
    • Let you child know you understand their feelings. ( Ex: I know you wanted to ride your bike outside and that when I said not now, it made you feel sad. It is hard to wait for our favorite toys.)
    • Explain to them why you made your choice or why they couldn’t have their choice. (Ex: I said not now for bike time because I have to make dinner and I cannot be outside with you and make sure you are safe.)
    •  Work on a solution to the problem that made them upset. (EX: What is a way we can fix our bike problem? We cannot ride our bike now. Hmmm…when I am done with dinner, we will have some time. Can we ride the bike for 10 minutes after dinner?)
  •  Compliment your child on how they calmed down. Try to focus on all the things they did well in the process and not the things that were frustrating.
  • Follow through with the solution you create with you child.