Tantrums are one of the most challenging parts of being a parent...and a child. It’s so hard for everyone involved.
Luckily, our experts shared some amazing insights and awesome advice this year. Here’s what we learned:
1. Kids physically cannot calm down during a tantrum
The connection between the reactive, impulsive part of a child’s brain and the part that is able to think logically and calmly is still forming—so it is next to impossible for them to calm down during a tantrum. (It can be pretty hard for adults too!)
Christoper Willard writes, “Helping them settle down from a tantrum to engage their wise mind takes wisdom, compassion, and plenty of patience on our part.”
For more, check out This is why your child can’t actually ‘calm down’ during a tantrum.
2. Validate their feelings
To a grown-up, an epic melt-down over the blue cup instead of the red cup seems crazy—but to a 2-year-old, it’s everything. Instead of trying to rationalize with a very sad toddler, validate the way they feel and let them know you understand what’s making them so mad.
3. Tantrums are actually healthy for kids
Research has shown that suppressing powerful emotions can lead to increased stress, while acknowledging and being present with them can lead to more emotional well-being. So instead of making our children move past these big feelings quickly, we can teach them to sit with them—we’ll all benefit in the long run.
3. Empathetic consequences are okay
Christine Skoutelas writes, “The key...is to balance the tenderness with some toughness. Just because I’m showing my daughter that I understand how she feels doesn’t mean there aren’t repercussions when she goes around striking everything and everyone in her path like an angry little hornet.
“’Even though you’re upset, you know you can’t kick Mom in the shins. That hurts. When we act like that, we don’t get everything we want. So, because you kicked, we’re not going to be able to watch Cinderella today.’ I pick something that is easily enforceable because I don’t want this consequence to be a punishment for me.”
To learn more read Why empathy is the best response to toddler tantrums.
4. Some tantrums can be avoided by preparing kids for the day’s schedule
Ashley Thurn says, “This is, hands down, my number one recommendation for minimizing tantrums. If you don’t remember any other steps, remember this—tell them what’s on the agenda for the day.
“Tell them specific things about the environment they’re about to walk into. If you’re going grocery shopping, fill them in on what you’re there to buy and what you’re NOT there to buy. If you normally go to the playground after school but today you can't because you have to pick up dry cleaning, tell your child about this change in routine ahead of time. Car rides are a great place to review these changes since you have a captive audience.”
For more tips on tantrum prevention, visit 9 ways to avoid a tantrum—YES, it’s possible!
5. Time-outs don’t work
Instead, says Ariadne Brill, try a time-in. “This is almost like a timeout, with one important change—you stay with your child in time in and support them until they have calmed down.
“A time in can be customized to your child’s temperament and your needs, where you can sit together on the couch, simply take a moment to hug and talk or walk away from a difficult situation to a different place altogether.
“The goal of a time in is to help your child feel safe, calm and ready to listen to your guidance.”
To read more about time-ins, see Why timeouts make tantrums + power struggles worse.
6. Offering compassion does not reward a tantrum—you don’t have to ignore your child
Rebecca Eanes says, “Connection is one of our most basic human needs. We all long to feel heard, validated, loved, accepted and attached, not only when we are our best selves, but also when we are our worst selves. Imagine a spouse, partner, or friend withdrawing their attention and warmth from you because you are crying, upset and in emotional distress.
“What would it do for your relationship? How would it affect your emotional state? Now imagine that these people gave you a shoulder to cry on, listened as you communicated your frustration or sadness, and then, even if they couldn’t solve your problem for you, they said “I’m here for you.” Now ask yourself those same two questions.
“Compassion is not a reward—it is the heart of relationships.”
To learn more about offering compassion during a tantrum, read Ignoring your toddler’s tantrum doesn’t work, but showing compassion does.
7. Try this brain-game
“Next time your little one gets overwhelmed and can’t calm down, try this simple method:
- Get their attention. Ask if they want to play a fun game and show them you’re excited too.
- Give them a challenge like finding five things of the same color in the room, naming their three favorite toys/foods/books, naming three things they can touch, hear or see, or doing a simple addition or subtraction problem.
- Once they’ve calmed down and have completed the challenge, take the time to connect with them further. Talk through what they were feeling and how you can solve it together. You can then hopefully go about what you were trying to do.”
For more on this idea, read Help your kids calm down with this simple brain game.
8. You are allowed to be a human, too
It’s so hard to remain calm when our children are melting down—and that’s okay. You are a human with emotions too! If you lose your temper, take a breath, and then tell your child you’re sorry. They’ll learn so much from you in that moment. Be gentle on yourself.