Managing Meltdowns



I am back in the season of temper tantrums – wheeeee!   I’ve heard from a lot of you as well, struggling with how to handle melt-downs from our little ones in a way where we are not losing our cool.  It is hard and a constant battle.

All children display tantrums at different times and to varying severity.  My journey with 4 different children has produced four different temperaments that I’ve had to adjust in order to be the parent I need to be for them.  It means I need to grow and change, which is often very challenging!  Who ever said parenting was going to be easy?

What Is a Temper Tantrum?  

There are many levels of tantrums and vary with different personalities of children.  They will also vary with environmental influences too.  You can have some children scream, wail, flail and jump around or others may pout and stomp all over the house. However your child displays it, a temper tantrum is unmistakable.

It is performed usually in response to the answer “no.” When kids don’t get their way, they can act out. The earliest act is often the tantrum. Through this method, they can test the boundaries of their influence over their parents’ behavior. They can feel like they are in control, and it often feels that way.

How you handle it will determine if it is effective.  Tantrums are frustrating and can throw your day into a loop.  But as I’ve been plowing through this season with a toddler once again, I’ve come up with some tips to stay cool and hamper the tantrum.

Go for the HUG

They won’t be expecting that. A big bear hug catches then off guard and may have them warming to you. Then ask them what’s wrong. This encourages their honesty and a more effective solution to their problem than stomping and screaming.  You know your child best and whether this may fit their personality style.  This approach can make the intensity of the tantrum worse, so be aware and cautious.  But it can be very effective.

Be a detective

Why are they throwing such a fit? Did they just come in from school and need to blow off some steam? Maybe they are restless and sleepy? Have they had enough ‘mama’ time?  When was the last time they ate?  See if you can find the origin of the tantrum before jumping to conclusions. Circumstances can influence tantrums so when you can examine outside issues you can avoid future out bursts.

Avoid giving in

If you give in to their demands, then they will know that they can get anything they want by throwing a hissy fit. Whatever you do, if the answer you gave was “no” then stick with it.  Consistency is your best friend, helping your child trust your word is key in earning their respect.

Ignore them

Some people think this is cruel, but your child may just want attention. If it has worked in the past, they will try it again. Keep an eye on them so they don’t hurt themselves or anyone else, but don’t say a word to them. Eventually they will get tired of being ignored and stop. Just make sure that your patience and nerve can outlast them.  I have found that often times my son has to cycle through this melt-down – there is nothing I can do to make things better and often when I try to reason and persist, it only makes it worse.  So, I step away.  This has been working very well in our home as of late.

When my little one starts his melt-down I clearly and calmly get on his level, talk to him slowly near his ear and tell him I cannot help him when he is crying.  When he stops crying I will be able to listen to him and help him.  I will then go on doing what needs to be done in the area.  This behavior on my part has reduced the length of melt-downs considerably.

Meet their real need

If your child has had a busy day, perhaps they need down time sooner.  Proceed with the evening routine ahead of time so they can get to bed and rest. Feed your child dinner if you notice that they might be hungry. It is not a crime to sit down to a meal earlier if it will help your child to calm down.  I have also noticed if we’ve had a particularly busy day and there has been little ‘us’ time, things tend to break down quicker.  This is a single to me to stop what I am doing and spend some time together.

Change the subject

Instead of giving in, find something new to talk about that might interest your child.  Diversion is a great tool and can often be a tool in your back pocket.  I am sure we’ve all had success with that one!  Young ones have a short attention span and it may distract them from whatever they were fussing about.

Avoid it all together

When you give your child choices instead of commands where they can use a ‘no’ response, you are less likely to end up in the typical tantrum pattern.   For instance, at bedtime my little guy needs to go to the bathroom.  This is not a choice, but I can give him a choice on how he does this.  So, he is given the choice whether he wants to go in the downstairs bathroom or in the upstairs bathroom.  This tends to avoid any ‘no’ answer as well as complete defiance.

How you respond to your child when they have a tantrum will influence how long the tantrum lasts and to what degree it escalates.  When you can have some strategies in your pocket to use you will feel better prepared to preempt them or respond in a positive way rather than negatively.

How have you tackled tantrums in your home?

Photo Credit

Road to 31
This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Help Susan Help These Children!
  • Shonda

    I love these ideas. My son’s tantrums have changed over this past year. He used to give me great fits out in public, but now it’s mostly at home. He is highly verbal, cries loud and for a long time. His meltdowns take up so much time during the day. I try to be real consistent. I like the hug idea. I am really trying to get to the bottom of what is making him upset. Yes, parenting is so much harder than I thought. I am so thankful for this blog. It has helped me a lot!!

  • These are great reminders, Susan. That “change the subject” one is so helpful here. Dealing with two daughters who have mood disorders year-round, just getting to a different part of the brain – with distraction, changing the subject, and asking a question – can dissolve a whole meltdown!

  • It can be really tricky to narrow down the causes – I think it can be hard for our little ones too – they cannot express their needs and it can be even more stressful for them! I certainly have had to learn some new tricks!

  • Kathryn

    These are some great ideas. I’m reading a book my son’s doctor recommended, “The Happiest Toddler on the Block,” How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful, and Cooperative One-to Four-Year-Old, by Harvey Karp, MD. If someone is looking for some more detailed reading on the subject, I highly recommend this book. One thing that works really well for my very stron-willed son is what they call the Fast Food Rule. They compare it to when your at a fast food restuarant, they always repeat your order back to you, rather than just telling you that’s $5 pull up now. When toddlers are having a tantrum or can’t get what they want, you’re supposed to repeat back to them what they want, or what they are feeling, then once they calm down, it’s your turn to say what you want. The book explains it better and in more detail, but it’s been working wonders! 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing the information on the book. I have not heard of it – so will check it out as well!

  • Christin

    Tackled temper tantrums? I don’t think we’ve tackled them….but we’re chasing them down! Our 5 year old has awful tantrums – much worse than our 3 year old. I’ve been narrowing them down, even working on diet. We found a huge allergy to food coloring, which caused him to get belligerent, and almost violent. After eliminating that, he will still have tantrums, but it will be because he is hungry or tired – and as a parent it is my job to anticipate that and be on time with meals! If it is not one of those times, then usually he needs a hug. If that doesn’t work, then it could be that he just needs some alone time. He’s an introvert and gets very overstimulated when there are too many people or too much loud stuff going on. Even just having one loud brother circling him for an hour can get to him. In this case, he gets sent to his room to calm down. He will get hugs and cuddles after he calms down, and we can talk about whatever the problem was. Usually this results in quiet play time for him, away from everyone (which is really heaven – he loves when he can just be left to his legos and books!!) We’ve been talking a LOT about how it would be much easier if he used his words to tell us what is bothering him, but sometimes he doesn’t even know what the problem is – just that he can’t handle his environment anymore. He won’t tell me he’s hungry, even if I know he is. I sometimes have to send him with a snack to his room, saying, “Ok, you don’t have to eat, but if you are going to be like this you need to stay in your room until you eat this snack.” Parenting is soooo hard!!! And every child is different!!!!! This child is my hardest right now. (Sorry so wordy!)

  • Christin

    I meant to write at the end – your ideas are FANTASTIC!!!! Thank you!!!! I wish I had them 3 years ago, before I even read blogs. ha ha! I learned some new info, though, that I hadn’t thought of to use for my 3 yr old.

  • That is great you were able to determine the food coloring issue – wow, that must have taken a bit of time. You are doing a great job! Sounds like you are very in tune with your kids and their specific needs – awesome!

  • Susan,
    I love your ideas. I have tried many of them, but I am still struggling with my daughter. She is 5, and temper tantrums are becoming more of the norm than not. She has gotten more aggressive with her tantrums, and I am at a loss as to how to manage them. Nothing I am doing is working anymore. I know I need to teach her anger management…do you have any ideas on anger management for younger children?

  • It can be stressful and difficult. Expect more resistance as you hone in on your tactics, she will resist big time trying to get you to break. Consistency in your approach is the best thing you can do. Keep doing what you are doing. If you are truly seeing aggressive behavior, I think you may have another issue to deal with and I would suggest bringing it up to your pediatrician and see what their take is. As far as anger management, allowing her to show anger is good, but helping her learn to display it in appropriate ways – using her words, writing it out, drawing, crying, screaming into a pillow are all beginning places to start. Hitting and hurting others is a completely unacceptable draw.

Error: Please enter a valid email address

Error: Invalid email

Error: Please enter your first name

Error: Please enter your last name

Error: Please enter a username

Error: Please enter a password

Error: Please confirm your password

Error: Password and password confirmation do not match