PEP Blog


Lifelong Strategies for Dealing With Tantrums and Other Meltdowns

By PEP Staff Writer

There is nothing more uncomfortable than a meltdown or tantrum for parents and children alike; nothing more socially awkward than one that takes place in public. If you’re parenting a young child, the holiday season is an excellent time to review strategies for managing the inevitable. Tantrums most often occur with children under age 4 and are a normal part of child development. They’re often an expression of frustration when a child doesn’t yet have the verbal skills to express his or her needs and feelings. But meltdowns aren’t unique to young children, older kids and even adults experience them sometimes.

meltdowns aren’t unique to young children, older kids and even adults experience them sometimes.

It’s a humbling moment when you accept that you can’t talk, yell or cajole your child out of the tailspin of a tantrum. There is only one thing you can control, how you respond. What you may have noticed is that our frustration only serves to escalate the situation and prolong the ordeal. This is most easily understood when we look at the contagion of crying attributed to mirror neurons — if you’re wondering what that looks like, check out this video and then read on to learn strategies to calm the storm, whether it’s yours or that of your child.

Learn to Ground Yourself

So, what can you do? Put on your own oxygen mask first; learn to ground yourself with the art of deep belly breathing — it will serve you well for years to come — think missed busses, broken curfews, even your annoying boss. Like yoga, belly breathing is something that takes practice, so work it into daily life; in doing so, you’ll be modeling something that will serve your children well!

Take Stock of the Situation

When you’re feeling more grounded, survey the situation and consider the acronym HALT — ask yourself if you or your child are hungry, angry, lonely, tired — or even overstimulated. Sometimes you’ll hit on something here; other times, you’ll find these episodes are electrical storms that need nothing more than time and patience as you wait for them to resolve. (Insert more deep belly breathing here!)

Step Off the Stage

“bear in mind that you may never see this particular audience again, whereas the relationship with your child will endure for life.”

Tantruming children do love a good audience. Regardless of the circumstances, give yourself permission to step off the stage. As PEP Parent Educator Robyn DesRoches notes in her recent Washington Parent article, “bear in mind that you may never see this particular audience again, whereas the relationship with your child will endure for life.” If you’re at a gathering, you might change the scene by stepping outside. If you’re at the mall, you might ask calmly and respectfully, “are you able to calm yourself down, or should we go home now?” Leaving may seem annoying and counterproductive, but it’s not about winning and losing; in the long run, you’ll appreciate the opportunity for some privacy.

Look for Teachable Moments – Emotion Coaching

Whether the result of a toddler tantrum, a screentime related meltdown by an older child, or grappling with our own feelings, we can all benefit from learning how to recognize and acknowledge feelings and return to a calmer state. “Name it to tame it” is one technique coined by Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson in their book The Whole-Brain Child. When we’re in a highly reactive state — think fight, flight, or freeze — our rational brain is no longer engaged. By taking a moment to scan our bodies and notice what we’re feeling — “I have a knot in my stomach” or “My mind is racing with fear” — by noticing the feelings and attaching words to those feelings, we can re-engage with the rational, reasoning brain, and develop emotional muscle for life’s inevitable hurdles.

While PEP has many tools and strategies to help parents with common challenges our sweet spot is helping parents and caregivers develop a strategy for the long haul. Our winter classes, both in-person and online, are open for registration now, register today!

Looking for more help with tantrums and meltdowns? Check out these two on-demand workshops, Temper Tantrums: Getting To Calm With Young Kids and Emotion Coaching.

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Parent Encouragement Program
10100 Connecticut Ave.
Kensington, MD 20895

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