What to Do About Tantrums and Emotional Meltdowns
Dealing with your kids’ tantrums and mood swings can be one of parenting’s most frustrating challenges. From public meltdowns to prolonged fits, these extreme outbursts of emotion have the capacity to provoke extreme reactions in us.
Methods that are effective in dealing with the child’s natural expressions of anger or frustration don’t work in this intense emotional situation. At these times, parents find it difficult to get through to their children and help them cope with their feelings.
To help a kid having a temper tantrum or meltdown, the parent needs to understand what the child is experiencing. They need to realize that, presently, this very young person is completely overwhelmed by emotions. She cannot be reached. For her, the outside world is shut out and she is experiencing her own internal hell. The kid having a meltdown has no understanding of himself and of what he is feeling. He feels fragmented and out of control.
The methods for dealing with temper tantrums and meltdowns are different than those for dealing with normal anger and frustration. Appealing to the child with logic or threatening consequences is unproductive. The following suggestions are helpful for reaching and affecting the child who is in this distressful state:
It is advisable be proactive and stop your child’s crying before it escalates into a full-blown tantrum or meltdown. It is often possible to anticipate a temper tantrum or meltdown coming on by recognizing the behaviors that typically precede it. You can then head off the outburst with a distraction. You can distract your child by changing the subject, the activity or the environment that is causing her distress.
There is one type of distraction that adults must not offer children. If your child is having a tantrum because something has been denied her, you must not give in by offering her what has been denied. Doing this teaches children that they can manipulate people to get what they want by throwing a tantrum.
When a tantrum or meltdown does occur, especially in public, all parents experience humiliation. They are embarrassed and fear that onlookers will regard them as faulty parents. However, do not let your self-consciousness or self-attacks affect your actions. Your focus should not be on worrying about how you are being seen, but on tending to the agony that your child is going through.
When your kid is in this state, do not send her to her room. Isolation is not a constructive solution because she is not being helped to deal with her feelings. During time alone, children in this distraught state are often tortured by angry fantasies. Therefore, it is especially valuable for you to make a point of being with your child in order to assist the her in coping with her powerful emotions.
When your child is having a tantrum or meltdown, you can sit with her as she goes through the tantrum. Do not try to talk your child out of her feelings, do not try to coax her or appeal to her logic. Do not get angry or offer a response that will fuel her anger and frustration. Let your child know that even though she feels like she is coming apart at the seams, you are comfortable with her emotions. You can communicate this by reflecting what your child is feeling:
“You’re really angry right now. That’s okay. I’ll just sit here with you while you feel it. I’ll sit here with you until it is over.”
“You’re so sad right now and you don’t even know why. It’s okay. I’ll stay with you until it passes. Don’t worry, we have plenty of time.”
The worst thing that adults can do when a child is having a tantrum or meltdown is become frustrated and agitated themselves; this will only heighten their child’s tension. By maintaining a calm, understanding and patient attitude, you create a stabilizing presence that will hold the child emotionally. The child who fears that she will fragment will feel contained by the adult and her agitation will subside. In cases where your child is feeling intense anger, you can hold her gently but firmly, allowing her to vent her rage.
The child having a temper tantrum or meltdown experiences the entire world as being overwhelmed by the emotions that she is feeling. By showing the child that you are not only not overwhelmed, but not threatened or upset by these emotions, you are offering your child a way out of a state that she perceives as inescapable.
After the emotional period has passed, it is possible to have a calm discussion with your child about what happened. If your kid is old enough, talk about what preceded the outburst. Did something make him mad? Did something frustrate him? Did he feel sad? Did he feel disappointed?
Can your child describe what he was feeling during the tantrum or meltdown? Be sure to talk about how you felt. Tell him that it made you sad to see him feeling so bad. Say that even though his feelings were scary to him, they weren’t to you. Relay that you were glad to be there for him.
Then talk about the future, and what he can do the next time that he feels like this. What triggers can he be on the look out for? What did he learn about himself this time that might help him the next time he feels this way? Explain that even though, during a tantrum or meltdown, it feels like the bad feeling will last forever, it will end. Point out that it is over now. Helping him gain perspective is valuable.
As your child grows older, he will no longer need an adult to contain his intense emotions. Your child will learn from your response to his tantrums that strong feelings are not overwhelming and can indeed be managed.Tags: child care, development, discipline, disciplining, emotion, parent, parenting, tantrum, tantrums, temper
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you talk about how to deal with tantrums and mood swings—-are you going to go deeper with intervention strategies?
Thank you for this article. Many others I’ve read are aimed at toddler tantrums and suggest ignoring/ leaving your child. But for my 5 year old, that escalates the problem. Every word here makes sense to me and I feel I have positive strategies to support her and help her gain control. Thank you. Much appreciated x
I am very grateful for this article and can’t wait to give the strategies a try. Obviously our strategy is NOT working. But I do have a question….our 4 year old will become so angry that she will throw toys at me, hit me, kick me and yell that she hates me and doesn’t want to play with me anymore. I usually sit at her door in her room because during a meltdown she will run around the house and just knock stuff off shelves, throw things, run around and laugh, etc. I have literally tried everything – any advice??
“Don’t worry, we have plenty of time.”
What about when the above is NOT TRUE. Like when the child has to be at school in 30 minutes or both parents have to be at work. I applaud these strategies but when time is of the essence, there has to be something additional.
This is the dumbest advice I have ever heard. If I could keep the kid from being a little monster, I would not be reading useless articles by pseudo scientists
I found this advice extremely helpful and it is precisely what I needed to hear to help my son through his emotions during a tantrum. In his case, it’s usually because his feelings are hurt when we overreact to his actions or when we insist he do something he doesn’t want to do (e.g. try the bathroom). He doesn’t know how to stand up to us nor articulate what he is feeling/thinking. After the tantrum he is able to verbally process what he thinks made him upset and we discuss what we can all do differently to prevent the same scenario in the future. I always thank him for trusting me and sharing with me then I reassure him I will do my best to do better too next time. We are in it together after all. This article provides excellent advice for parents in my view. Thank you!
How do you cope when you’re the B parent in the situation? The kids live primarily with their dad due to mental health issues 4 years ago. I only get to see them once a week and sometimes twice a week if school holidays where they stay at mine. I am concerned because I am limited to the time I have with them so I try to make the most of it. I get so upset when they’re upset that I cry too. This is because I feel I we are losing time with each other every time a tantrum happens and its limits the time I have with them and feels like I. Spending most of the time disciplining them. I a. Currently pregnant and its hard to control my emotions right now.
I have a six year old granddaughter, that I have full custody of, she has melt downs everyday, she doesn’t like to share, she wants things her way, if we are going out the door to go somewhere, she throws a fit cause she wants to be the one to open the door, then she wants us all to go back in the house and start all over again just so she can be the one to open the door, if you refuse to do it, she breaks out in fits, there is so much more like this that she will throw fits about. And your telling me to keep my cool. I do my best, but only God knows how hard it is at times.
I’ve been sooooo stressed with my 2 year old girl. The lack of support for parents and children is ASTOUNDING. not very good advice mixed with Good Luck isn’t that helpful.
My Aunt told me to remove all sugar from her diet and limit the TV watching. I’m going to try that for the next two weeks and see if there’s some results. Pray for me!
I’m sorry there is a difference between a slap on the backside and a beating a slap on the backside never hurt anyone a lot of these tantrums are just because the child can’t have its own way and only gets worse that’s why there is so many angry , spoiled , undisciplined people in the world bring back the old fashion parenting
A question. I agree with all of this but a few trying parts of it.
1. We do tell her to go to get room but then if both my husband and I are here one goes with her. Her tantrums are super long and very upsetting to our other kids who cry. We use to not but I couldn’t have my other kids also scared . So if both of us our home one of us will go upstairs to sit .
But if only one parent is there we will go for a bit , give her a photo album I made her and say we love you and we will check on you for a bit.
It’s hard to leave the other kids and I’m balancing all kids needs. I vent I ally I go in and hold her once I get other kids doing an other activity . But I do feel a sense these kids are not getting the care they need.
Also her tantrums can be 46 – hour long. Center when husband is here it is very challenging to stay with someone hitting you throwing sheets off. It makes me cry and I get frustrated. So to prevent from lashing out ourselves we wait till we know she won’t hurt herself but then we give her that same photo book and remind her we love her .
We will put timer on for 5 minutes time and come in hold her if we can. It’s very hard especially if on her bad days it happens like 3 times in one day . I so feel bad leaving her alone but like I said we come back and we weighed it is probably better than loosing our emotions. She is like a different person during them and it’s emotionally so hard for the rest of the family as well . If you have any tips