Discovery Point Blog

April 11, 2023
temper tantrum

Coping with and De-escalating Tantrums

Are your toddler’s tantrums causing tension within your home? Meltdowns can be difficult for any parent to deal with and can leave both you and your child exhausted. Let’s discuss some methods you can use to cope with and de-escalate tantrums while helping your child manage their emotions more effectively.

1. Start by understanding tantrums.

Some parents see tantrums as downright bad behavior. However, it’s important to understand these meltdowns for what they are: an emotional response by a child who is just learning to express themselves and doesn’t have the words to explain their feelings. 

In other words, you can view tantrums as your child’s way of communicating to you that they are feeling emotional distress due to a certain trigger. Rather than viewing tantrums as the start of a war, try to perceive them as a message from your child that they need you on their team to help cope with big emotions.

2. Stay calm.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when your child throws a tantrum is to throw an adult-sized tantrum alongside them. It is important to stay calm so you can be a comforting presence for your child. You should model self-control and offer an example of emotional self-regulation. 

This means avoiding raising your voice to be heard over your child. You should also take a moment to get down on their level to connect with them as they are trying to gather their thoughts.

3. Focus on emotions rather than reason. 

When your child is in an emotional state, they may not be able to activate the logical side of their brain. During a tantrum, the fight-or-flight mechanism takes over, and trying to reason with them will either have no effect or could escalate their emotional response. 

Try to focus your communication on your child’s emotions to show you understand how they feel. For example, instead of saying “I’m sorry, we don’t have any more candy,” consider using the phrase “You wanted,” as in “You wanted more candy, but there wasn’t any left.” 

This may seem like a minor change, but reframing your words in this manner can go a long way in helping your child see that you understand what they are feeling, which lessens their need to escalate the outburst.

4. Help them move on.

After the peak of the outburst, your child may feel depleted and need your help to move on from the tantrum. Options can include simply proposing another activity to engage in, changing locations, or continuing on to the next scheduled event in your day. 

Some parents may see this step as a form of distraction, but the point isn’t to distract your child from the intense emotions that they were just experiencing. The goal is actually to establish an end to the tantrum. This will help your child process what has just happened and understand that the next time they are overcome with a wave of emotion, the moment will pass and they will still be okay.

Tips For Preventing Tantrums

To prevent tantrums from occurring in the first place, consider the following strategies:

1. Find ways to transition between activities. 

When your child is enjoying doing something, whether playing at the park or painting, it is understandable that they could have a negative response when they are abruptly told to stop. Making the transition between activities more natural can help prevent such reactions. 

For example, you could have a game that you play as you return to the car after a day at the park, or a special song that goes along with cleaning up art supplies. These small rituals can help make endings less difficult to accept and can contribute to preventing tantrums.

2. Avoid using the word “no.”

You certainly don’t have to agree to everything your child says, but the word “no” is a trigger word for people of all ages. When emotions are already beginning to heighten, this word can send your child over the edge and into a tantrum. Consider coming up with more open-ended responses that do not come across as an immediate rejection of your child’s desires.

3. Plan ahead.

Tantrums often take place when children are hungry, tired, or overstimulated. Keep snacks at hand to prevent hunger from becoming an issue. It’s also a good idea to consider avoiding particularly stimulating activities, such as grocery shopping, right before your child’s naptime or at the end of the day. 

Tantrums are inevitable, but, like all things, they will pass. Keep putting in the effort of mirroring a sense of calm to your child and teaching them healthy ways to cope with their emotions. Before you know it, they will be out of the tantrum phase and everyone can breathe a little easier.