How to Help Your Child Through a Tantrum and Keep Calm in a Sticky Situation

Pyramid Online Counseling      Education Center  
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Angry baby and tired mother lying on a carpet in a room

Parenting is no walk in the park, and nothing feels as overwhelming as when your child is having a tantrum, especially in public. While there are endless resources on parenting tips and tricks, what do you do in the heat of the moment when a child escalates and the situation feels beyond mending?

In this article we’ll give you practical, professional tips to help with your child’s tantrums that will bring peace in the moment and decrease outbursts in the long-run. These skills will help you feel in control and be the best parent you can.

Give your child space

Instinctively, we tend to move towards people when we are trying to comfort, soothe or calm. While this is usually effective for adults, for a child who is in distress, it can quickly escalate a situation. It can be tempting to pick up a kid who is having a tantrum and walk away to avoid embarrassment, but physical contact can make an upset child feel even more out of control. When children are frustrated, giving them space to regulate their emotions can be a game-changer.

Don’t react

When a child is dysregulated, it may seem like he/she is not paying attention to anything. In reality, he/she is looking to you for clues on how to act. When you respond like you’re not in control of a situation, that can be scary for kids. Your stress exacerbates theirs.

It may sound impossible, but the less you respond, the better. A strong emotional reaction in response to a tantrum can quickly de-rail a kid, a parent and a whole family. Yelling, swearing, threatening, cold body language and even a sarcastic tone can aggravate a situation. Talking in a calm voice, speaking in a regular or even quiet volume and making minimal gestures gives a child the impression that everything is OK.

Discipline later

Vocalizing punishments in the moment is something we’ve all done and later regretted. Not only are these attempts at discipline reactionary and emotional, they can be a chore for you to enforce and ineffective in the long-run. Yelling or threatening with punishments can alarm kids, and add fuel to a tantrum. 

Perhaps the best child tantrum advice is to save consequences for later, in a different setting. In the moment, a child needs to hear calming messages, even if they don’t seem to work at first. Afterwards, have a one-on-one conversation with the child and give a clear, consistent consequence (consider asking kids what they think is a fair deal, you’ll be surprised by the answers). Remember to stick to what you say, too. Going back on the consequences you’ve declared sends the message that the behavior is acceptable, and it will continue.

Have a reflective conversation

Handling a tantrum smoothly only helps temporarily. Having conversations with your child where you work together to have age-appropriate reflections on what went wrong, and how to solve problems in the future will decrease the number and intensity of tantrums, permanently changing behavior.

Use these questions to guide conversations.

  • What happened from your point of view?
  • What was your emotion when that happened?
  • How do you feel about it afterward?
  • What can I do to make things better?
  • What can you do to make things better?
  • What’s a better idea if the same thing happens again?
  • Pretend you’re back in that moment. How would you ask me for help?

Ask first

When you ask kids to explain what happened in their own words before casting judgment and assignment punishment, you’ll get the full picture of the story. Maybe someone said something that made them afraid, or you didn’t notice a sibling pushing them. Allowing children to have agency and share their side of the story will help them open up to you more and trust your decisions (even if they whine about them).

Encourage emotional awareness

Learning how to express emotions, problem solve and make good decisions can happen at any age. Working with your children to build up a vocabulary of emotion words, both simple and complex, can help both you and your child to understand and respond to difficult situations. You’ll also notice patterns in behavior when you reflect on how you were both feeling in the moment.

Awareness of feelings and the ability to express them will help a child who is having a tantrum and foster important skills for the rest of his or her life. To start teaching emotional awareness at home, try pausing a tv show randomly and ask your kids how that the characters are feeling, and how they know. Point out both physical signs (like body language and facial expressions) and context clues (like what happened just before).

Give yourself grace

While there are plenty of tips to decrease kid tantrums, there will always be factors that are out of your control. Every parent struggles with feeling like they didn’t do enough, but rest assured you’re not alone if you have a child who has overwhelming tantrums.

Professional child tantrum help

While there are some tools that can help any parent to de-escalate a situation, the best child tantrum advice is advice that is specifically catered to you and your family. At Pyramid Online Counseling you can get services that are uniquely designed for your needs, with a professional who knows you individually. Call 833-525-3077 to get connected today.