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Taming Tantrums from Toddlers to Teens

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

*Updated 3/13/2022

Tantrums, meltdowns, freak outs, fits... Whatever you call them they are disruptive. They can make us fear our children, embarrass us in public and cause us to lose our cool! Then just when you feel like you made it through the terrible twos or maybe the trying threes... they seem to rear their ugly head again and you find yourself googling "tantrums at 7" wondering if the internet has come up with a cute name for that... Older kids, teens and even Moms still have them, yet we tend to call them by other names like melt downs or "she's loosing her sh*t again..."

Some children are more sensitive, become more easily over-stimulated and have them with more frequency than we expect at their age.

Through my work with kids in the classroom, at camp and in my house (the grocery store, grandma's house, restaurants, their sibling's choir concert, the car dealership...) I have come up with a little cheat sheet of ideas that are my go to secret weapons for these moments.

1. Validate, even out your voice and remove them:

"I'm so sorry that the rain is too dry for you. Your crying is hurting my ears. Please sit on this step (spot, bed, room, corner, couch...) until you are all done crying and then we can talk about it." Then give them space. Now, for 2/3 of my kids, this goes best if I leave their sight or even tell them to leave mine. However, in talking with hundreds of parents and families, I know this can be anxiety-provoking for some. You may want to experiment with sitting next to them, putting them on your lap (if they are not swinging, hitting, or hurting you) and being with them yet silent while they calm down.

2. Ignore, ignore and then keep ignoring:

Pretend to put your "invisibility cloak" on and go about your business. Only talk to them again when the screaming turns to sniffles. This works well with 1/3 of my kids. This particular kiddo would not stay put or go to their room, so I pretended to be invisible!

3. Broken record:

Repeat with no emotion, "I'll talk to you when you are calm, I'll talk to you when you are calm, I'll talk to you when you are calm." Or "I'm sorry but we have to go, I'm sorry but we have to go..." Do not mix it up, do not raise your voice, do not engage in a power struggle.

4. Distract:

"Are those new shoes you're wearing?"

"Remind me, how many states in the USA again? Which ones were original colonies?"

"Tell me that funny story about your new puppy again!"

We tend to reserve this one for toddler and pre schoolers, however, it can be really effective with older kids and teens. Ever look at a 15 year old who is mid freak out and say, "want an ice cream sundae?" Now use your discretion, if they are upset about something really difficult, you don't want to belittle their feelings.

5. Plan ahead and right size your expectations.

This could be packing your sensory backpack :

Or explaining what will be happening to your kids ahead of a new experience.

Want more information for those easily dysregulated kids and teens? Want to learn more about "rightsizing your expectations?" What about collaborative problem solving and appropriate consequences? Check out my Amazon best seller ranked parenting survival guide.

Want to read more about parenting support for children's difficult behavior?

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