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Behavior Parenting

Parenting Tips to Manage Tantrums, Meltdowns, and Kids Acting Out


Parenting Tips to Manage Tantrums, Meltdowns, and Kids Acting Out

Tantrums and meltdowns are a normal part of growing up. They usually start around the age of 1.5 to 2 and by the time they reach 4 years old and start school, most kids should have outgrown tantrums. So, why do these tantrums happen in the first place?

Temper tantrums in children start around the age of 2 (Ever heard the term terrible twos?) and this manifests with the child throwing a crying fit, whining, yelling, screaming, punching, throwing or hitting. Children throw tantrums because they haven’t learned how to express themselves more appropriately. They may feel angry, frustrated, nervous, irritated or have a sensory overload and they do not possess the language skills to articulate what they need or feel. What is a tantrum but a cry for an unmet need or attention?

Tantrums typically last for around 2 to 15 minutes. If your kid is hungry, stressed, tired, or going through some discomfort, he is more likely to act out. As a parent, it can be difficult to maintain your calm when your kid is in the middle of a full-blown meltdown, but raising your tone, screaming, or worse, caving in, bribing or spanking can make things even worse. It is because you may have stopped the meltdown at that minute, but you have not taught your kiddo more appropriate behaviours.

Children past the toddler age are exploring their independence and they like to push others, particularly their caregivers, to see how far they can go. But then, they also want their parents’ attention, and this conflict causes them to feel confused and act out. They haven't learned to deal with little disappointments, everyday frustrations and big feelings which causes them to lash out unexpectedly.

The trick to deal with a loud tantrum or angry meltdown is to understand the reason behind the tantrum in the first place. When the child throws a tantrum, he knows he has all of your attention. But you are still in the dark about how to respond because you don’t know what’s the cause of the tantrum in the first place!

If you have ruled out hunger, stress, and tiredness, temper tantrums can be because the child wants something, be it a toy, snack or your attention. The meltdown could be due to avoiding something, such as clearing up their toys after play, leaving the park after their play session, doing their homework, going to bed but keep playing, or eating that nutritious but not so delicious-looking meal. Too much sensory stimulation, such as loud television or music, being touched could also act as triggers for some kids throwing a tantrum.

If you give in to a tantrum, then it's a surefire way of telling your child that they can get what they want by acting out. The key here is to make them unlearn it, otherwise, you may find yourself dealing with the same thing quite frequently. He will come to rely on these learned behaviours to get what he wants, every time.

No matter how much you tell them about appropriate behaviours, but if you are inconsistent or give them what they want, the only thing that registers in the child’s mind is your action - giving in after a meltdown be it an extra hour of screen time or that ice cream cone for dinner. Tell them what the consequence of their behaviour will be - maybe it’s loss of a privilege like no playground play or you taking away their favourite toy that day - and then follow through to show that you mean what you say.

Whether it's terrible twos, threes or even fours that you have to deal with, here are a few things you can do to intervene positively before things get out of hand. Each tantrum fit, emotional outburst or meltdown is an opportunity to show them how to express themselves better. Never lose your calm and always be empathetic, and you will do a lot of good for yourself and your child.

How to deal with temper tantrums and meltdowns

Here are some tips to handle those meltdowns.

Pay attention to and reward good behaviour

When your child is being good, pay attention. Maybe even give them a little word of appreciation. This will go a long way in reinforcing what behaviours are expected of them and will be appreciated. Instead of focusing on the tantrum, pay more attention to the positive things that your child is doing, so they feel they are recognized for their good behaviour and they will be encouraged to make good choices in the future.

Rather than just saying “good”, be more specific like, “ I like how you shared your toy with the other kid. It made him so happy.” Or, “I like how you managed to calm down at the store even if Mumma refused to buy that big ice cream scoop.”

Ignore the tantrum

Do not try to reason with your child or calm him down when he is in the middle of a full-blown meltdown. This is related to what we saw in the previous section about withholding attention when the child is exhibiting behaviours you want to discourage and shower plenty of it when he is exhibiting behaviours you want to encourage.

Instead of throwing a tantrum or yelling, if the kid is trying to comply, compromise, or even negotiate, try to positively reinforce more of it. These are important life skills that kids should learn when they are dealt with a blow. They learn coping mechanisms that will help them deal with the lows of life. Moreover, when you respond or give them all your attention during a tantrum, they are likely to think that they will get whatever they wish with a tantrum.

Redirect instead of saying No or saying something negative

There are ways to make your child comply instead of commanding. For instance, if you want your child to walk a little slow when you are walking on the road, instead of shouting at them to stop running, you could suggest something along the lines of, “Could you hold my hand and walk beside me?”. Instead of asking, commanding, or a last resort, screaming at them to stop shouting, you could try saying, “Could you speak to me in a softer tone?”. Make sure your tone is calmer when you suggest this!

Validate your kiddo’s feelings

Acknowledge your child’s feelings. Once you see that they are becoming calmer, you could encourage them to talk about it if they want to. Show them that you are there to help them out. Obviously, this doesn't mean that you are agreeing with whatever they are saying. But you are reassuring them that they are there for you and they can count on you being in their corner if ever they need help or support processing their emotions and regulating their feelings.

When they learn to articulate their emotions and feelings, it will help them calm down quicker. There is always calm after the storm, you just have to be patient! Whether they are feeling angry, upset or frustrated, show that you understand they are angry, offer to help, and if they are the recipient of help from you, do so. But if your kid is too upset to talk to right then, do so at a later time when things have settled down a bit.

Model the calm behaviour yourself

Once you realize your kid is throwing a tantrum, it helps to calm yourself. Projecting your anger, irritation, or frustration will only make things worse. Keep your cool and ride the storm out! We know that is easier said than done! But if you try pleading with your kid, shout at them, hurl threats, or try to reason with them, things are only more likely to get more heated!

If the meltdown happens in a public place, like the grocery store or the park, it may be a little embarrassing for you, particularly when you are worrying about what others will think of you as a parent. Move them to a safer, more tranquil place (not the car, or where there are a lot of people around), while letting your child know that you are there for them when they have calmed down.

Just keep an eye on them from a little distance away. A parent’s raised tone, irritated voice, angry, disappointed or frustrated look, stressed behaviour will likely make the kid even jumpier and stressed. Kids look up to their parents and imitate their behaviours. So, model the behaviour you want to see in your kid. Being calm and composed will help you to think clearly and help your child out too. Take a timeout if required before you can collect yourself together before trying to calm down your upset child. You could teach them relaxing techniques like taking deep breaths or counting backwards.


Distraction works when you sense that your child is about to throw a tantrum, but it hasn’t reached a complete meltdown just yet. A favourite toy, that interesting board game they love playing with, that exciting object outside the window - all of these could serve as possible distractions.

Make use of your kid's short attention spans and distract them from whatever is causing them distress. If they are upset because of something you denied them, then don’t dwell too much on it, but offer some distraction. Offer a toy they adore, put on their favourite song/rhyme/ and sing together, or take them to a different room/setting, perhaps the park if the tantrum happened indoors or inside if it happened in the playground, store or outside.

Give them some control through the power of two

Within reasonable limits, you can provide choices to the kids so they feel there is some semblance of control in their lives. This will help them to be calmer. Ensure that you do not give them choices you will regret later. For example, you shouldn’t ask them if they want chickpeas or burgers for snacks if you don’t want them to be eating a burger for snacks.

If it's related to healthy food choices, you could ask them if they want chickpea salad or vegetable salad for snacks. You could ask them which of the two well-pressed shirts they want to wear out if you do not want them picking that worn one they have worn for ages.

Choices like “Do you want to do your homework now before you head out to play in the ground or after a 30-minute play session?” This way, you may well avoid hearing the word “No” for every little thing that needs to be done. Instead of too many choices which may end up confusing them or leave them more flurried than before, giving them two simple choices can turn into a win-win situation for both the child and the parent.

Choose your battles wisely

The adage, “Pick your battles wisely” is one that will help us manoeuvre through our life smoothly with fewer frictions. Consider your kid’s request and keep an open mind. Is what they are asking or refusing so outrageous? Will it take just very little time, effort, or energy on your part to comply with what they have set their hearts on? Give in once in a way; it's ok to lose sometimes in the trivial stuff!


Understand your child’s tantrum triggers

Understanding what triggers your child may help avoid a possible tantrum situation. The easy ones are hunger and sleep. Do not plan a party right during the child’s afternoon nap. If you know going to the grocery store may not be to the kid’s liking, you could possibly pack his favourite toy or snacks to handle the situation better.

Prepare them beforehand, for instance, if you have just bought them a new toy the month before, you could tell them firmly that you aren't going to get them any toy. Perhaps, you could give them something to look forward to, like “Can we play with the blocks after the shopping is done?” so that you can wrap up your shopping in peace.

For some kids, it's bedtime. For some, it's bath time that can be a cause of great frustration. Do something fun to make the bathtime ritual more appealing. The same goes for the bedtime routine too. Plan something the kid will love, like reading a good book before bed. Even something as small as clearing up their toys before going to the playground can cause some kids to act out. If they resist, be firm and refuse that you are not going to budge unless they are done putting their toys away.

But be firm, consistent and do not cave in; otherwise, you can expect the tantrum to happen repeatedly.

It's hard enough for the little ones when they are overwhelmed with big feelings like frustration, anger, irritability, fear, anxiety or shame. But it's important to remember that they are not doing it on purpose or to manipulate you into getting what they want.

What’s important is to help them through their tantrum without blowing our top and making things a whole lot worse. Address the root cause of the tantrum, ease them through it and equip them to handle their strong emotions better. Your child(ren) will thank you for it!

Oftentimes, your kid will feel shame, because they know they have been exhibiting less than desirable behaviours. Keep all emotions out of it, maintain your cool and do not react negatively no matter how tough it may be.

Once the tantrum has passed, don’t make them feel worse or reprimand them - there’s every chance the tantrum can happen all over again. Or your child may feel guilty or ashamed. If you want to say something positive, keep it short and constructive. A warm hug will reassure them that no matter what, you have their back, have their best interests at heart, and you love them.

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