Taming a Tantrum

 Written by Kristin Tallackson, M.A., LPC (OH) LPC-Intern (TX)


 You’re in the grocery store, you see a child screaming, crying, and hiding behind a rack of clothes. We’ve all probably witnessed a version of this. We quietly say in our heads, “they sure know how to throw a tantrum.” I’ve worked with many parents who seek counseling for tantrums. As I began working with more and more children, I noticed a difference in the language. Some parents would describe their child’s behavior as tantrums while others expressed them as meltdowns. Curious, I did some research.


Tantrums and meltdown are two different forms of emotional outbursts. Tantrums are typically something a child has control over. While meltdowns are more intense and handling them is often more complicated. Meltdowns typically occur when a child becomes overstimulated by their environment. Your child may struggle with Sensory Processing Disorder and meltdowns may occur due to overstimulation.


This week I will give you tools, taken from understood.org, on how to tame a tantrum.1 Tune into our blog next week to see how to manage meltdowns.


Ways to Tame a Tantrum

Tantrums are usually something kids have some control over. So there are many ways to try to avoid them—or stop them in their tracks.

  1. Agree on a frustration signal. Work with your child to come up with a signal you can use when you see her getting frustrated. Practice the signal when she’s calm. Talk about what she can do when she sees it.

  2. Create a calm space. Find a place in your house that your child can use to calm down and feel safe. Explain this is a quiet space, not a punishment space. At first, you may need to help her remember to go there when she’s upset.

  3. Identify the cause. Knowing the source of a tantrum makes it easier to defuse. It can help you find an in-the-moment solution and help your child find better ways to deal with the situation next time.

  4. Have clear expectations and consequences. Let your child know what you expect in certain situations. Explain what will happen if the expectations aren’t met.

  5. Talk the situation through. Your child may not be acting appropriately, but that doesn’t mean her feelings aren’t real. Acknowledge what’s upsetting her and help her name the feelings. For example: “I know you’re angry with me because I asked you to turn off the video game. I get mad, too, when I have to stop doing something fun.”

  6. Ignore the tantrum behavior. For some kids, the most effective reaction is no reaction. If your child’s tantrum is fed by the negative attention she gets as you’re trying to tame it, it may be better to give her some space and not respond at all.

  7. Reinforce self-control and positive behavior. Praise your child when she’s able to gain control and calm down. Let her know specifically what she’s doing well. For example, “I know you were really angry and it was hard for you to stop yelling. You did a nice job taking some time to cool down. Now we can talk about this calmly.”

Kristin Tallackson is a counselor at Heights Family Counseling who specializes in anxiety, behavior, mood, attachment, and child/teen counseling. Kristin's counseling approach is to offer a safe place for you to process and work through a multitude of circumstances, while offering valuable insight and perspective into whatever journey you may find yourself. Her philosophy is to embrace you where you are, equip you with tools, coping mechanisms and knowledge, and empower you to take those tools and lead a fulfilling life. Read more about Kristin’s counseling approach at https://heightsfamilycounseling.com/amy-rollo/. Set up an appointment with Kristin online by going to https://heightsfamilycounseling.com/contact/

1 Understood.org