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3 Ways to Stop a Tantrum in Its Tracks

3 Ways to Stop a Tantrum in Its Tracks

It's not always easy to know what to do when your child throws a tantrum. When even tried and true techniques fail, try something new! Here are three approaches that have worked for other Circle of Moms members.

1. Distract

Circle of Moms member Becky J.'s four-year-old daughter is frequently defiant, and her mom has tried everything she can think of: time outs, taking away toys, even, as a last resort, spanking. All of these techniques are in direct respomnse to the "bad" behavior itself. Why not try a completely different tack? Change the subject! 

As Avon V. points out, a tantrumming child is simply testing boundaries, so it doesn't really matter what the content of the tantrum is. Changing the subject can be a distraction -- when really you think you should focus on changing the behavior -- but if the specifics are irrelevant, then a distraction might be warranted. I've used this with good results. When my three-year-old son gets upset that he has to stop playing rush to get dressed for school, I might ask him if he's heard the new CD we just got. If his attention is successfully re-directed, I continue on, telling him it's good dancing music and that I think when he has friends over they might enjoy it too. And so on.


If your child has a good sense of humor, a joke or funny idea can sometimes jolt him out of a tantrum. Once, when my son's security blanket was inadvertently left at home (and we were too far away to go back and get it), I took the risky tack of blaming the blanket: "Bad blankie," I said. "Why did you stay at home when we need you here right now?" My son thought that was hilarious and said, "Maybe blankie was hiding from us." Indeed.


2. Show Empathy

It's hard to empathize with your child when she's screaming her lungs out, but Michelle A. suggests a quiet tone in response to a tantrum. Along those lines, holding back your own anger and instead commiserating with your child can go a long way toward calming him or her down. I often say to my son, "Honey, I know you're really upset right now, and it's okay to cry and to feel bad. Everybody feels sad or angry sometimes, and it's okay to tell me." Just knowing that his mom understands that he's unhappy can be a comfort to your child, even if you can't do anything to immediately change the situation.

Sometimes, a tantrum is a child's way of letting you know he or she feels excluded. Sarah B. uses a positive-discipline approach that involves charts of behaviors and rewards. For the less organized parent, asking your child for help is a worthy alternative. If you are cutting something with a sharp knife, your child obviously can't help you with this. But there are many things even young kids can help with that make them feel a part of the larger whole of the family. Soliciting your child's help can be a way of communicating that you know this, and that you appreciate his or her skills. For example, when my son melts down because I have poured his milk for him, instead of letting him help, I can often turn his mood by offering to let him do something else that demonstrates his competence and independence, or "big boy" status, such as feeding the cat or getting the laundry out of the dryer. Your task might take a little longer to complete this way, but the time spent will be worth it!

3. Give Your Child Space

It's tempting to want to "fix" a tantrum and a natural desire to want your child to stop crying or tantrumming. But sometimes, a child simply needs space to re-group alone. If talking doesn't work, try telling your child that you love him and that you're there if he needs you, but that you're going to give him some space now. When I've done this with my son, he always calms himself (a useful skill) within a few minutes and comes to me. I like to close the circle and then talk about his feelings but only if he's willing.

Image Source: ryancboren via Flickr / Creative Commons

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

Join The Conversation
fionamcdermott fionamcdermott 5 years
All kids are different. No two ideas work the same, my lo has very few tantrums atm and is,easily distracted. Weather that down to parenting silks my lo nature or luck i dont know but probably a mix. Always keep busy helping at supermarket works well with lora of praise n encouragement then when had enough a treat to eat or drink if good idea. If your lo responds to nothing ignore then only say what u need to ie no or time out etc as talking away at them make things worse. I could go on forever as worked with kids with behaviour problems for 17 years! Lots of positive praise n catch them being good ie bot being naughty!
Morgan33701 Morgan33701 5 years
My son always would calm down when I told him "life is just so hard". he would respond 'yes it is'. then stop lol. the other one is 'life just sucks' and he would stop and think about it and come back with yes. my son is a very logical thinker tho. when he acts out, it does help to talk with him about what's wrong. generally he either needs to tell me something that's bothering him or else he needs an explanation about why he just can't have it. a suggestion for those at the store-i used to remove my son from the store by walking outside or in a bathroom. Someplace that wasn't the happiest and there wasn't a lot to do. I'd also hold him. At first we did that regularly, then sometimes, and now it's rare.
AnikaMears AnikaMears 5 years
BY the way, I see a lot of posts like this aimed at parents whose children can seem to talk very well. My son understands a fair bit of what I say to him, but saying "Honey, I know you're really upset right now, and it's okay to cry and to feel bad. Everybody feels sad or angry sometimes, and it's okay to tell me" isn't gonna do shit with my son. He'd have no idea what I was saying to him (he's 2 1/2). Neither does giving him consequences or rewards, he just doesn't get it. Not sure if that is ADHD causing that or just being a toddler, but telling my son stuff like that ain't gonna work.
AnikaMears AnikaMears 5 years
@Kim, I agree. We think our son has ADHD and throws a lot of tantrums in public. It looks like he's a horrible child and like I don't know what I'm doing, but that's not the case. It's really difficult and people don't understand how difficult. None of these strategies work on my son except giving him space, but that's obviously not much of an option if we're out, and I need to get things done.
nicolehartwick nicolehartwick 5 years
tito have to agree my son is 2yrs old and he surely does let you know if he cannot have it, so these days i just walk away. when i go out he is even worse, i had a laugh the other doing groceries 'he wanted something, i said NO! he screamed the whole shoppin trip! even tried distracting. its hard to distract someone when they are determined to get it.
MarissaPollard16751 MarissaPollard16751 5 years
@ niki..... i agree with you..... there is no way my 3 year old twin boys would ever get away with hiting or biting me...... 2 me thats a sign of disrespect. and leave a grocery store u crazy..... i am on a bus with them and i live 2 far to leave and come back..... luckly my 3 year olds love 2 read so when we r out i take something to keep them busy while mommy runs her errands..... spare the rod spoil the child..... ive always beleived that 2 b true.... but u dont have 2 beat them a spanking will teach them that when u do wrong u will get in trouble.... u ignoring their problems and tantrums aint helping them..... its not teaching them anything..... but when they start just talk 2 them kids are smarter than you think they are.... they understand
EstelaTriglia EstelaTriglia 5 years
To Cindy: I respectfullly disagree with you. You can't get your children used to you leaving a grocery store for example just because they are throwing a temper tantrum. They'll get used to that too and end up getting what they want. You can't put your life on hold like that! Atleast for's hard enough as it is to leave the house with a newborn and toddler to get my errands done, therefore, I'm getting them done while I'm there. They have to get used to you and your way of life...not the other way around.
EstelaTriglia EstelaTriglia 5 years
NikiBustamente NikiBustamente 5 years
Ok maybe its just me, but the whole idea of coddling a child when it is displaying behavior that is bad, just seems like setting them up for failure in the future. Ever since both of my children were small ( 1-1/2 to 2 years old) I have NEVER put up with a tantrum. The first time they did it, I got down to eye level with them and let them know that that behavior was unacceptable. If you have something going wrong, then we talk about it, or if I've told them no to something they want, than that is final. I also warned them that if they threw another tantrum, they would be punished for the bad behavior. I believe in spanking my children. I don't go crazy, because I do believe you can go overboard with it, and I also use other methods of discipline as well. Now that my kids are 8 and 4, we never have tantrums. It took repitition to train them this way, but that is what being a parent is. You train them over and over to go to the bathroom, to sleep in their own bed, etc. I have very well behaved children, and I'm proud of that. I'm not the mom you see in the store with the child on the floor throwing themselves everywhere and screaming at the top of their lungs. I don't know about any other mom's, but my days are way too busy to leave the store to go out to the car and wait for my kid to calm down. I'm saying this because if you train your children right, (And non of this has to be mean or terrrifying to your kids) then you can save yourself alot of heart ache, and frustration.
AmberPigott AmberPigott 5 years
ok...what do you do when you have tried all of the above and the child is still defiant and disrespectful...
Tito2721710 Tito2721710 5 years
Reading all this makes me think that I have monsters in my house heheh All these persons with all these great examples are realy real people? Lucky them.... When my daughter decides to throw a tantrum, nothing of this will work. Thank you anyway for these advices, I hope that there are mums here who don't have little monsters like I do so that they can use them ;o)
cindyegley cindyegley 5 years
@ Alexis, My kids are way out of tantrum stage in my house,, in their 20's. If they start throwing a tantrum in a store, simply leave your basket, let a store worker know, and leave the store. Tell your child that when he/she can calm down and act proper and they do understand you, then you will go back into the store. Even sitting in a car for a few minutes may help. You may even need to go home and try again later that day or the next day.
JodieKleingartner JodieKleingartner 5 years
I am the very proud mommy of 4 girls ages 13, 7, 4 and 2. We raised our 1st 3 without any major tantrum issues. Obviously they threw them and each in her own way, but my husband and I learned how to dael with each child and I came out of it feeling very proud of my parenting skills. And then......along came the 4th daughter. And all of my proud parenting went right out the window! Tantrums???/ Try absolute meltdowns! Over every little thing!!! You can not "REASON" with her. There is no amount of "PERSONAL SPACE" big enough. And "SHOW EMPATHY"??? Really??? When she is hitting, biting, screaming and all out melting down in say...oh, I dont know....Home Depot??? Yeah, my empathy stops right about the paint isle! Dont get me wrong, these are all great pieces of advice but for me even suggesting these things in relation with my 2 yr old make me want to throw a tantrum! :)
MichellePietruszynski MichellePietruszynski 5 years
@Alexis- I feel your pain! My son is 2 as well, and no matter how hard I try it is pretty much impossible to distract him from his tantrums! I am always trying to find new ways with little success. Hopefully they will outgrow it soon!! Here's hoping!
MochiMochi84507 MochiMochi84507 5 years
my kid always beats me!
AlexisFausett AlexisFausett 5 years
you must not know my son then.. he is 2 and has been throwing tantrums... you take something away from him and well wow he gets worse... you try to empathize and he gets worse... he kicks you and hits you... and giving him space... how are you to give them space in the grocery store?
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