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How to Handle Your Child’s Temper Tantrums & Meltdowns

8-minute read 

Our educators are sharing tips to help you prepare and manage temper tantrums at every age:

  • Tantrums are a normal part of child development—meltdowns can happen when kids are tired, hungry, or uncomfortable.
  • Every child exhibits pre-tantrum signs, and once you can recognize them, you will be able to defuse the situation before their momentum begins to build into total meltdown mode.
  • When they’re in it, be present with them, help them name their feelings, and show them coping strategies, like taking deep breaths.

Temper Tantrum Triggers

No matter how frustrating they can be, tantrums (a.k.a. emotional dysregulation) are an expected part of child development. They're how young children show that they're upset—meltdowns can happen when kids are tired, hungry, or uncomfortable.

You know it’s coming and there is no stopping it—your child is melting down. When children don’t have enough tools to manage their feelings, it can lead to big outbursts or temper tantrums. So that’s why our educators are sharing tips to help you prepare and manage meltdowns at every age.

Handling a temper tantrum

Equally common in all children, tantrums tend to start when language skills are beginning to develop. Because toddlers can't yet say what they want, feel, or need, a frustrating experience may cause a tantrum. As language skills improve, tantrums tend to decrease.

As your child gets a little bigger, sometimes the meltdowns do, too—stamping feet, holding breath, yelling, becoming easily frustrated, or just overall melting down can become tantrums. But they tend to happen for some of the same reasons that babies and toddlers have tantrums, which include frustration and anger, or feeling upset, run-down, hungry, or sick.

School-Age Kids:
Older children are beginning to deal with more complex issues, and while they have gained some independence, they still need guidance. Tantrum triggers can also be comparisons—now that they have the ability to categorize and compare, kids may focus on who is better at math or basketball than they are and not be able to express how they feel. And if they have a younger sibling, there can be some jealousy and the desire for more attention.

Preparing for Big Emotions Before a Tantrum Happens

Just as you would prepare for any other event, being ready for a meltdown can be a big help in the moment. As we talked about earlier, we know that tantrums are going to happen because they are expected in your child’s development—so try taking a proactive approach. When your child is calm, teach them how to self-soothe and regulate their emotions by naming emotions for little ones, practicing breathing techniques with preschoolers, and introducing journaling to school-agers. These little practices will help reduce the frequency of tantrums as they get older because they will have learned the skills to understand and regulate their emotions, and tantrums will no longer be useful for them.

But inevitably, you and your kiddo will experience tantrums. All kids exhibit pre-tantrum signs, and once you can recognize them, you will be able to defuse the situation before their momentum begins to build.

With so many meltdowns caused by frustration, sticking to a predictable routine can help give small children a sense of security. Also, work with your child to name their emotions so when they begin to feel something, they can tell you before it turns into a tantrum.

When you start to see your child building momentum toward a meltdown, have them take a few breaths with you. Let them know that you can see they are feeling upset—this will help them identify those emotions when they come up again. When they have calmed down, encourage them to talk about what made them feel this way.

School-Age Kids:
Sometimes these kiddos hold it together all day at school, only to come home and lose it a little. So, if they toss their backpack across the room, try not to correct it immediately since that may only push their buttons. Instead try: connection before correction.

Correcting your child in that moment will probably only push them away when what they really need is for you to be close. Even if they don't want to talk about it in the moment, knowing you're there is a pretty big deal. You can find another moment when they're in a better head space to talk about more productive ways to manage their stress/feelings. Try saying something like, “Looks like you had a big day, let’s have a snack and talk about it.” Model coping strategies for them, like talking it out and practicing deep breathing exercises.

Managing a Meltdown in the Moment

No matter how much you prepare, tantrums are going to happen. Here are a few tips to help you help them. The number one thing for you to do is keep your cool (we know this is challenging at times, but it will be so worth it!) and invite them into your calm. Kids learn to internally regulate their emotions from external models like you.

Be present with them. If it’s okay for your baby, try rubbing their back or simply sit close by—calmly take deep breaths and let them work it out. If you need to, remove them from the situation that’s upsetting them—trust us, you’re not the first family to leave a cart full of groceries at the store and you won’t be the last. For toddlers, you may want to get down on their level, name their emotions ("You're really mad"), connect, ("I get mad too when I can't have what I want"), and offer help ("I wonder what might help you feel better").

Try not to jump in and solve their problem for them; instead, talk about how you can solve it together once they calm down. For example, if they are upset by a task like getting ready for bed, then help break it down for them. Have them brush their teeth, then walk together to the bedroom to put on their pajamas, etc.

School-Age Kids:
Many kids at this age can start to calm themselves down, but if they need a little guidance, you can remind them of their calming strategies. If they love music, maybe create a cool-down playlist or remind them to visit their quiet or active areas.

And listen, we get it. Navigating tantrums is tough, and sometimes we don’t manage them as well as we want to in the moment. That’s okay, We’re all human, and we all have big emotions. If you ever lose your cool, try to acknowledge it afterward—it's a great way to show your child that we are all still learning. You can talk about how you’d like to handle it in the future and maybe even make a plan together.

While most meltdowns are expected behavior, there may be times when you need some additional help or advice. If your child’s temper tantrums are consuming a lot of your time or getting in the way of your family functioning, try talking to your pediatrician about it. They can help identify tantrum triggers and help you create strategies that are tailored specifically for your child and your family.
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