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Guest Post: How to Survive a Tantrum

I'm very excited to share a guest post today from Amy Greene of A Better Way Parenting. Make sure you check out her wonderful parenting blog.


Tantrum Over a Movie Selection by Bethany King. CC BY-ND 2.0, cropped from original.

Nuclear meltdown! Screaming fit! Losing it!

No matter what we call them, tantrums are something that every parent dreads. We feel utterly helpless in the face of our child's uncontrolled spewing of emotions. And if it happens in public (as the worst ones always seem to) we get the stink eye. Why don’t you just DO something to control that kid!

Think back to a time when you were so upset that you did something you knew you shouldn't or you just couldn't hear what someone else was saying. Maybe you said something hurtful to your partner. Maybe you “zoned out” at a work meeting after a fight with your co-worker.

The same thing happens to our kids. Their rational “upstairs” brain gets “short-circuited” by strong emotion. The flight-or-fight instinct kicks in. Everything seems like a threat. Reasoning, pleading, and distracting won’t work. Sometimes, that even makes it worse!


Image courtesy of The Momentous Institute. Used by permission.


As much as I wish I could offer you a magic system of instantly stopping tantrums, I can’t. It simply doesn't exist.

But I can show you how to use your calm presence, your unconditional love, and a feeling of safety to help your kids return to their “right mind.”

1. Breathe

Your child's mental and emotional  circuits are already blown. If you go right into reacting, your circuits will similarly be overloaded, and you will be unable to help your child. The tantrum escalates. So when you feel yourself about to “lose it,” stop. Take a deep breath. Take five deep breaths. Count to 10 (or 20 or 100). Until you find your own calm, you will only add fuel to the fire.

2. Move to a quiet spot

One of the biggest stressors during a tantrum is the fear of other people judging you, your parenting, and your child.

Reduce your stress and the resulting urgency to “control” your child for other people's comfort.

If you're at a friend's house, say “We need a few minutes to ourselves. Can we use your bedroom?” (or bathroom, office, backyard, kitchen, basement...) At a store, take the child out to your car or into a bathroom. At home, move to another room if there are siblings or guests.

Try not to blame the child by saying things like “We're going to the bathroom until Charlie can behave himself again.” A non-judgmental statement like “We need a few minutes to ourselves.” or “Let's find a quiet spot.” will get you out of the spotlight and help you stay calm.

3. Be with

One of the biggest traps of tantrums is that we feel it's imperative to STOP the tantrum. So we put a lot of effort into consoling, bribing, threatening, distracting, or cajoling our child.

Our job, however, is not to stop the tantrum, but to BE WITH the child.

They are out of control and need the calm presence of someone who loves them.

Some children benefit from being held or wrapped up tightly, while others would prefer to sit in your lap, beside you on the sofa, or even have you at arm’s length.

Don't be afraid to experiment, or to try different approaches in different situations or with different children. You might try offering a favorite blanket or stuffed animal (but don't be surprised if they throw it. Just calmly state “I see you don't want that. It's right here if you change your mind.”)

Personally, I like to sing or hum, because it helps me to stay calm. You might want to say something reassuring, such as “I'm right here with you.”

Be aware of your non-verbal communication; is your body language communicating anger, frustration, and exasperation, or sympathy, calmness, acceptance and love?

4. Empathize

Let your child know you understand!  Give voice to their emotions, “You are so mad right now.” “You really wanted that toy.” “You don’t like getting your hair washed!”

Once we feel understood, we no longer feel threatened. We can go back to our “upstairs brain.”

5. Reconnect

Whether it’s just a few minutes or feels like an eternity, every tantrum eventually runs its course. The strong emotions are dealt with and out of the way.

At this point, the child may appear happy, calm, grumpy, sleepy. No matter how they appear, it's crucial that you do something to reconnect with them. It could be singing a silly song together, having a good cuddle, having a staring contest that ends in giggles, or doing some sort of special ritual that you have for expressing love to each other.

Tantrums are scary for kids; they need your assurance that they are safe and that they are loved!

6. Problem solve

Often after a tantrum, we immediately move on to whatever we were doing before the tantrum interrupted everything. But if we do, we are missing a golden opportunity both to deepen our relationship with our child and to help reduce future tantrums.

Acknowledge the cause, if you can, and come up with a solution together. “I can see you really wanted that toy in the store. We aren't getting it today, but would you like to write it down as one of the things to think about for your birthday?” “You didn’t like getting water in your face when we washed your hair. How could we find a better way?”

Keeping our cool what our kids emotions get overheated isn’t easy. But by staying present with our kids, acknowledging their feelings, and helping them problem solve, we model how to deal with tough emotions in a healthy way. Kids internalize this pattern, eventually giving them the tools they need to keep calm when things get tough.

About the Author:

Amy Greene honed her parenting skills by practicing on other people’s children as a middle and high school teacher, tutor, and nanny. Called a “modern-day Mary Poppins,” she helps parents demolish their parenting hurdles, strengthen their relationship with their children, and make family-life fun and rewarding. Find her at A Better Way Parenting and Twitter.  Click here to get your copy of  7 Playful Ways to Connect with Your Kids.



Monday 4th of May 2015

This is a great read and such perfect timing. My kiddo is just starting to throw tantrums. I'm sure it will get worse too as she gets older. I usually let her ride it out and just follow our normal routines until she calms down. I'll keep in the mind the words of advice above.


Monday 4th of May 2015

Hi Shailee, Tantrums are CRAZY!! My three year old is a master haha.. these are definitely some great tips!

Six Pack Mommy

Wednesday 29th of April 2015

these are excellent suggestions. And the visual of what's happening in a child's brain is spot-on. It helps parents to realize it's harder for their child to instantly "snap out of it" thank they think.


Thursday 30th of April 2015

Thanks for reading and commenting, April! Snapping out of it is hard enough for us adults (or brains are wired the same way). For kids, it's even harder. But they can learn from our example.


Wednesday 29th of April 2015

I thought it was a great post. I have a three year old so it was definitely helpful for me!