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Managing Tantrums

Happy Girl with Dad
  • Tantrums are a natural response for young children expressing an emotion they can't convey in words

  • Tantrums can be best managed if you remain calm

  • By validating your child's experience, it helps them know you understand.


  • Modelling self-regulation strategies,  helps kids learn things they can do to feel better. Efforts to use words to solve problems should  be encouraged

  • Be forgiving. Children are trialing what works for them and dealing with big emotions

  • The less rewarding tantrums become, the more likely children will trial using other strategies

  • Tantrums may persist, especially if at some time in the child's life, they've worked for them

The best tip for managing a tantrum is to avoid it. We all know particular issues that are likely to be triggers, so it makes sense to try to distract our child before it becomes an issue.

Scenario Example:

Changing a difficult routine to a fun one

For example: It's time to leave Nana's. Your child has had a really great day and they'd like it to continue. So, distract them. (Pack the car ahead of time.)


Distract: Ask a fun question.

'Do you think Nan is strong enough to push our car? I wonder if you can beat me to the car and we'll find out. Come on Nan, you can't beat us...' Notice you haven't said 'we're leaving.'


Nan can say something like 'Oh the car's not heavy enough.' Why don't you all get in to make it heavier.'


Nan can then pretend to 'push' the front of the car as it reverses down the driveway (obviously away from her.) Your child will likely be laughing instead of crying. This can change a regular stressful event into a new fun routine way of leaving.

Parenting toddlers doesn't need to be tough. If you look at things through a child's eyes it can help you hijack potential problems. Can you adapt the strategy I used over years to help overcome another difficult situation in your life?

Anchor 1

Tantrums and screaming can be best managed if you don't escalate the drama and remain calm.


1. Try either/or options.

Speak calmly. Use phrases that offer choice like:

'You seem upset. Can I help you? Would you like ... (this) or ... (that)? (Offer a choice they can point to.)

Suggest appropriate behaviour

  • If they're already able to talk try something like 'You may need to take a big breath to help you feel a bit better like I do when I feel upset. We can breathe in together.'

  • Count to 4. You may need to repeat this for a few rotations.

  • If they're sad give them a cuddly toy to hold.

  • You can then say 'How can I help you so you don't feel sad/ angry/ lonely, etc?'

Build relationship

'I'd really like to help you but I don't know how.' Maybe rub their back. Provide an either or option. Was it ... or ...  that you wanted? You can point if you like or you can tell me.' (Even a single word gives you a clue whereas screaming/crying doesn't.) Again try encouraging them to take a breath, then tell you.

Mother and Daughter

4. Reward for doing the right thing

If your child makes an effort to communicate with you, say something like:

Try moving on

'That's fantastic. Now I know what you want because you used your words. Let's go and get it now.'


Reward for doing the right thing. Problem solved.


If your child learns using language to solve problems works for them, they're more likely to use language to solve problems.

a crying little funny toddler girl outdo

2. Try moving your child away from attention.

N.B. (The way your child responds gives you a clue as to whether they want a resolution or to vent.) If they want to vent, you could try something like:

Diffusing tension

'You seem a bit over-tired at the moment. How about you have a lie down,' (rather than continue to escalate a situation with a child who has lost it.) And put them to bed in their room. Give them their favourite stuffed toy, encourage them to take in deep breaths while you rub their backs. (You might be surprised how often they really are tired and will fall asleep within minutes... Losing it takes a lot of energy.)

Building Relationship through Empathy

  • If they're sad pat them and say something like 'I understand you're sad. Sometimes we don't get everything we want and it's natural to be disappointed. Even I get disappointed sometimes.

  • Say: 'Do you want to tell me about it?' Then listen. If you  listen to where they're coming from, before you attempt to help them see another point of view, you build your relationship and your child learns they can rely on you.

3. Make sure you and your partner present as a team. If you're at home, be supportive. Suggest self-regulation strategies. But don't engage if they choose to scream at you. You can either sit close by and pat them if they're sad, or ensure they're safe.

  • Remove audience interaction (that may even be with you, if they're violent.)

  • Encourage any attempt they make to self-regulate or communicate.

If your child is at home (and you've already tried a couple of times to find out what's wrong,) and your child is throwing themselves around in a tantrum,  get them a pillow for under their head to prevent them from hurting themselves.

Anchor 2

5. Move on quickly. Forgive.

Be positive. Let your child realize being cooperative pays off for them. Don't be angry with a child having a tantrum. They're simply learning how to manage big emotions.


Imagine for a moment you've just had a huge disappointment and someone said to you 'I don't want to know. Go to your room.'


Having tantrums is a natural part of maturing. It helps if parents get over the issue as quickly as possible. Then children don't get locked into having tantrums for attention.

Crying little toddler, having a tantrum
Asian mother carrying her troublesome yo

8. With children four years old and above be consistent, every time, so they learn tantrums no longer work.


Some children never grow out of tantrums, or screaming to get their way, because it works really well for them.


And I've found there's one thing much worse than dealing with a four-year-old who continually loses it. It's having this same four-year-old, still losing it with you, at five, then eight, then fifteen then thirty ... Because the size of the tantrums generally get bigger, along with their size.

6. Tell children what you expect

Assuming your child is around three-and-a-half or four years old, and in a safe environment, you could say something like:

Limit Setting

'I'm sorry I can't help you at the moment. If you want to show/tell me in a minute what you want, I can help you then. Try taking a deep breath to help you calm down a bit and then you can tell me.' And walk away. You can keep them within your view to ensure their safety.

7. Avoid an audience

If you're out and can leave, get out of there. It's so much easier to manage a tantrum without an audience. I knew a child once who only threw tantrums when she was out, because her mother would be embarrassed and give in. If you're in a shopping centre the last thing you need is the stares of onlookers making you feel even worse, or unsolicited advice.

_Child boy yelling kid screaming looking

Something to consider is: If you feel negligent by setting limits with a four-year-old child having a tantrum, (after you've attempted twice to resolve an issue,) by staying, you're giving them a pay off... That is: getting your attention, or getting what they want, by having a tantrum.

 Isn't it more loving to give your child the skills to express themselves and learn to function well within society, than to indulge and support bad choices of behaviour.


Building a loving relationship and setting limits when there isn't an issue is a good place to start.

Mother and Son

10. Praise your child for having greater self-control.

If children are rewarded for using language to solve their problems, and learn to express their needs in socially acceptable ways the new behaviour is more likely to continue.


The ability to use words to resolve our problems is of great benefit to us in life. And I've found if children can express themselves clearly, they're often less inclined to have tantrums.

Being able to handle yourself in a crisis (even as a child,) builds your confidence. As parents we're wanting to raise children, who grow into adults that feel good about themselves.

9. Help your child learn to self-regulate.

  • Model how to deal with big emotions.

  1. Take big breaths yourself.

  2. Say things like 'I need a moment to calm down...'

  3. Choose calming music to listen to.

  4. Go for a walk outside.

  5. Find three things you can see, two things you can hear, one thing you can smell.

  • Discuss these are some of the strategies you use to overcome sad/angry feelings.

  • Encourage your child to take in three deep breaths to feel better and 'try to use words' to express their feelings. Use encouraging words: You'll get over this, you can do better next time...


Some of the statements I successfully used over and over again with children from four years on (after a tantrum was over and they'd calmed down a bit) are below.

Relationship Building

I know sometimes it's disappointing when:

our turn is over/

we don't get to do everything we want/

have to go home/ etc

But there will be another time and we might get our turn then. Or maybe, we might even get something better.'

Where possible I made the alternative as good, or better, reinforcing to the child I always had their interests at heart.

Maintaining consistency & integrity

'If I let you think it's okay to behave like that, I'm not being a good mother/ teacher. And you know I want to be the best  I can be for you... What do you think might have worked better for you?

Encourage communication skills

'Now that you're a big boy/girl it's great you can use your words to help solve your problems. When you do that others know exactly what you want. And if I know what you want, you know I'll give you all I can, if it's good for you... '

Young children generally reduce tantrums as their language levels improve. For ideas to help improve your young child's language go to:

Anchor 3
Bucket & Spade

I've seen 'major' behavioural issues turned around within weeks, time and time again, by consistently and calmly following some of the strategies I've suggested.

You can contact me via Instagram at #best_parenting_advice


For more best parenting advice on behavioural strategies go to the following links or check out Behaviour Strategies That Work:

If your child is four, or older, and they're still having tantrums, the gallery boxes below identify different tips to help.

Begin with 'Why spend positive time together.' All the topics have something different to offer.

Or check out Tool Kit: Managing Difficult Behaviour 1

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Best parenting takes time. The best parenting advice ever is simple: Do your best, don't give up and love your children, no matter what.

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