How to Stop Tantrums

Tantrums are a very normal way for a young child to express intense upset and frustration.  They are not deliberate or manipulative.  Even much older children can engage in tantrums or tantrum-like behaviour if they haven’t learnt other more effective ways of getting their needs met.

Tantrums are governed by part of the brain that we do not have conscious control over.  So it’s futile to reason with your child during a tantrum.  They will hear your tone of voice and understand your body language but your words will be hard to listen to.

Tantrums can be difficult to deal with because we instinctively try to stop our child’s behaviour (e.g. crying, kicking, hitting, breath-holding) and don’t address their underlying need.

And our own emotions during a tantrum can trigger our own stress systems and make us want to fight our child or walk away!  Then it’s unlikely that we’ll offer our child the sort of help they need to calm down.

Trying to avoid tantrums altogether is common advice.  There are key moments when your child is more at risk of having a tantrum – e.g. when they’re hungry, tired, or over-stimulated.  But many methods suggested for avoiding tantrums – often distraction or modifying the environment – do not offer parents and children what they truly need: a way to relate to each other that respects both parent and child.

Many experts do not address what to do if a tantrum is in full swing.  Or they offer advice that makes the situation worse by weakening the loving connection between parent and child.

Instead of reasoning, ignoring or arguing with your child, I recommend you try a 3 step-process of

  1. detachment
  2. empathy
  3. loving boundaries.


Detachment is staying calm.  It can be tough to achieve this but if you remind yourself that the tantrum is not deliberate this will help.

Empathy is being present for your child.  It really helps your child to calm down if you try to understand why they’re having this tantrum and provide a reassuring presence until the tantrum subsides.

Loving boundaries help children feel safe and loved.  You can stick to your rules in a gentle way.  Or perhaps the right thing to do is let go of this battle!  Don’t worry about giving in and reinforcing the tantrum.  If you do this your child actually learns that you are a reasonable human being who can learn from their mistakes and acknowledge when you’ve made one!

If you’d like to understand more about tantrums, then please go to the downloads page and click on the link for the tantrum download where I discuss these ideas in greater detail and explain in depth how to use the 3-step process to dissolve tantrums.

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