Ten Easy Ways to Stop Your Kids’ Tantrum NOW!
Every kid has tantrums. Some more often than others; some with more passion than others. But just as no two snowflakes are alike, neither are two tantrums – or the ways in which two different children will react to your attempts to stop the tantrum. That’s why you need not just a bag of tricks, but a virtual battalion of tried-and-true, trusted, safe and effective ways to calm your child (and yourself) down! We’ve suffered (and continue to suffer) our fair share of tantrums in our house. Some are short-lived and others have lasted – and I kid you not – for hours.
Here is a list of the techniques that have worked best in our family. Hopefully they will work for you, too!
1. Make a Joke
I’d say that by far, the easiest and quickest way we’ve found to stopping a tantrum is to make a joke. The silliest joke you can think of – about yourself, your child’s favorite stuffed animal or toy figure, about a noise you can hear or anything in sight. (Warning: depending on your child and the severity of the tantrum, you may not want to poke fun at him. Sometimes it can work and be taken well, and sometimes it can backfire terribly!)
Physical gags also work wonders – kids love to see adults pretend to get hurt. It is a dark truth about children – make it work to your advantage!
2. Throw Your Own Tantrum
This is basically a spin-off of the joke or physical gag technique. Throw yourself on the floor next to the child and pretend to cry and scream. If the tantrum isn’t too bad, this can quickly make a child forget about what she is doing, and simply laugh at the silliness of what you’re doing.
3. Play a Game
If, for some reason, you can’t immediately think of something funny as your child lies on the floor kicking and screaming and you’re late for an appointment and your phone is ringing and you still haven’t had a shower… Try to think up your kid’s favorite game – I spy or hide-and-seek, or even a quick puppet show with nearby stuffed animals. Something your child normally enjoys that will instantly take his mind off of the screaming.
However, beware! This is a great way to end tantrums IF you are willing to follow-through with the game long enough (5-10 minutes at least). If you don’t have that kind of time to invest, however, you might want to try something else.
4. Offer a Hug or a Lap
It may sound obvious, but sometimes we are so wrapped-up in trying to get a kid to ‘snap-out-of-it’, that we forget to offer the most basic form of comfort. I tend to offer a hug or a lap very early on in a tantrum. Often it’s met with rebuff – at first. However, some time later (2 minutes, 5 minutes, an hour), this tends to be the final pose of the tantrum, bringing calm and ease back into a tense situation.
So don’t give up if your kid doesn’t want to be held right away – keep offering the affection after each other tactic, and hopefully it will bring things to a close sooner rather than later.
5. Sing a Song
There are, of course, different types of tantrums. There are tantrums born out of anger, frustration, sadness, defiance or fatigue; short tantrums and long tantrums; tantrums with screaming, flailing, crying, running or rolling around.
For the more physical, angry types of tantrums, sometimes the best thing is not to ‘insult’ the child with a joke or try to contain the physicality of what she is doing, even with the best of intentions (i.e., a hug). Instead, take a step back and use your voice to soothe her.
I won’t put any links here or make any absolute claims, but research has shown that singing to a baby has all kinds of positive effects. So why wouldn’t singing to your child also serve to create positive effects? For example, if a baby crying at night can be soothed to sleep with the sound of song, why not use your voice to calm an older child who is crying out of frustration?
I’m not saying it will work every time or even half the time, but it can’t hurt to sing your child’s favorite song in such a time of need. Yes, need. As much as the child might be pushing you away and screaming at you, what he truly needs is for you to reassure him that he is safe, loved and being taken care of.
6. Offer Food (even a Treat!)
If your kids are like our kids – they love food. Any time I need a little break or some peace and quiet, it’s snack time. So I will admit that I have tried (and every now and then succeeded) in putting an end to a tantrum with food – or, more often than not, a treat.
Now this might sound awful – reinforce ‘bad’ behavior with a ‘treat’?! But remember, a tantrum – a true tantrum – is not ‘bad behavior’. In fact, I would argue that a child has very little control over herself during true tantrums. They occur when children are overwhelmed with feelings they can’t control and can’t make sense of.
Therefore, rather than looking at it as rewarding ‘bad behavior’, think about it like targeting one of a child’s most primal needs (food) in an attempt to pull him away from the vortex of complex emotions he cannot navigate on his own.
7. The ‘Did you know…?’ Trick
Kids are easily distracted. They are also very curious beings. Put the two together, and you’ll find it’s very easy to hook a child with any phrase beginning with ‘Did you know…?’.
“Did you know that I had a doll just like this when I was a kid?”
“Did you know that your father and I met at a book store?”
“Did you know that dinosaurs were bigger than our car?”
Try to come up with something of interest to your child, and something you have at least a little bit of knowledge about. Or, even better, something you know nothing about, and then whip out the cell phone (cue: angels in the sky singing ‘aaaaaaahhhhh’; golden light filling the room) and look up the subject with them to learn about it together.
8. Use a Mirror, Phone or Camera
Kids love to look at themselves in the mirror, see pictures of themselves or see videos of themselves. I’m sure there are all sorts of healthy reasons for this, and not simply vanity. But I won’t get into that now…
In any case, use it to your advantage!
Grab a mirror, cell phone or camera and capture the image of the crying, screaming, flailing. Chances are, your kid will be more interested in watching herself in the image/video (and possibly even laughing about it), than continuing to carry on.
9. Offer Something to a Sibling
Sometimes, when all else is failing as one of my children is acting up, I bestow my attention and even some sort of special treat (e.g., a special song, snack or game) onto the other children.
Ok, it sounds like a dirty trick. And while I’ll freely admit that this parenting thing is a game of survival, this particular action is not one born in cruelty.
In fact, if you look at all the tactics I have listed here, you’ll notice they all have something in common – they require little time, effort and energy. That isn’t because I think a child doesn’t deserve time, effort or energy. It’s because I don’t think it’s healthy for a tantrum to get those things.
Giving too much attention to a tantrum is like feeding a monster inside your child; helping it to grow bigger and stronger; giving it a sense of self. That is not what you want to do, and that is not what your child needs.
So, just as giving a food treat to the child in question can serve to help him focus on something he can understand (i.e., hunger), giving a treat to a sibling also serves to target a primal feeling – jealousy.
It’s no secret that a child likes to be the center of attention; that a child does not like his brother/sister to be the center of attention; that a child does not like to be left out. Therefore, the feelings of jealousy can actually help that child to push beyond the overgrown fit and get back into control of herself.
So again, this is not out of cruelty.
This is how it works: offer something (e.g. a special video, snack or game) to the sibling and also to the child in question. The tantruming child will almost certainly turn down the offer… whereas the sibling(s) will not. And when the parent(s) and sibling(s) walk away, suddenly the tantruming child takes notice. The focus has shifted from the spinning mass of complicated, unfamiliar emotions erupting in the tantrum, and lands directly on one, very familiar feeling. In some cases, it is just the thing to pull the child out of the tantrum.
Well, that’s my theory anyway.
10. Walk Away
I will reiterate here that feeding a tantrum – giving it too much attention – isn’t good for you or the child suffering from it.
But let’s back up and talk a little more about why. Firstly, when a child is in the throes of a tantrum, he isn’t doing it on purpose. He isn’t acting up. He is – very literally – out of control. In other words, the child is suffering.
Secondly, during a tantrum a parent is also suffering. And just like all human beings (yes, parents are human beings with all the same needs of a human being – but more on that at another time), parents need to calm down, recharge and pull themselves together at times – especially in difficult times like being in the face of a tantrum.
So walking away from a tantrum is a good thing for a number of reasons: it gives the child a chance to breathe and think without being badgered by the ever-so-well-intentioned parent; it teaches the child that a tantrum will not always serve to get attention; it helps the parent recharge; and it allows the parent to keep calm in a difficult situation.
What are your tried-and-true ways of combatting a tantrum? Share your tips with us below!