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How to respond to tantrums

As Murphy’s Law would have it, children’s tantrums seem to happen at the most inconvenient times. Your toddler or independent-minded 3-year-old turns red, screams, stomps, and appears possessed when you’ve finally gotten everyone geared up for a family walk, or wrangled that video call you spent days coordinating with relatives to get everyone live at once — or even worse, when you need silence for your weekly video conference call at work.

“What’s gotten into you? We don’t have time for this!” you might think. Everything you say and do seems to make the tantrum worse, and it takes all of your remaining resources not to throw a tantrum yourself. What can you do instead when your child throws a tantrum? Below is a three-step strategy that can help.

Validate the emotions behind the tantrum

Validating someone’s emotions means acknowledging them. You are not agreeing or disagreeing with the feelings; you are demonstrating that you hear the other person.

You likely have noticed that logic does not go over well with a child throwing a tantrum. For example, let’s say your child throws a tantrum while demanding a cookie before dinner. “Why are you so unhappy? You know you cannot have dessert before dinner,” you point out logically. Most likely, the child’s ears will close, and the tantrum will escalate because they don’t feel heard. Instead, validating their emotions can help them identify how they are feeling, which is one step toward helping them regulate or calm their emotions.

In this case, you can state, “You’re angry with me because I won’t give you a cookie before dinner.” Sometimes, you might just validate the feeling and leave it at that. Other times, a second clause helps illustrate that two opposing statements can be true at the same time: “You’re angry with me because I won’t give you a cookie before dinner, and you can have one after dinner.” If you’re trying this, it’s important to use the conjunction “and” and not “but.” That way, you won’t negate the first part of the clause.

Your child probably won’t smile and agreeably walk away. However, validating can prevent an escalation of the tantrum and curtail the intensity of the emotion.

Actively ignore dandelions

Any behavior that gets attention will continue. Imagine a garden: your child is the rose that needs just the right amount of sunlight and water; the dandelions are the unhelpful behaviors, such as tantrums. If you so much as blink in a dandelion’s direction, you know that you will have a garden full of dandelions. This is why after validating once, the next step

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Written by Shobha


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