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Tips on What to Avoid When Your Child Is Having a Tantrum

Dealing with a tantrum-ing child can be incredibly frustrating and stressful for parents. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to make mistakes that may inadvertently cause the tantrum to worsen or reinforce the behavior. Here are some tips on what to avoid when your child is throwing a fit:

Don’t Give Lots Of Attention:

For some kids, even negative attention is better than no attention. Giving lots of focus to your tantrum-ing child, even in an attempt to soothe or scold them, often inadvertently encourages the behavior by giving them the reaction they are craving. Unless there is a safety concern, move a safe distance away and wait the tantrum out, ignoring it as much as possible.

Of course, you want to supervise even while ignoring, in case intervention is needed. But denying the audience and not letting your child see your embarrassed or annoyed facial expressions takes much of the incentive away.

Don’t Engage in Conflict:

You cannot explain them out of their meltdown. All you are likely to do is escalate the intensity even further. State your limit/expectation once calmly and matter-of-factly, then refuse to get sucked into the conflict any further.

Say something like, “I know you really want ice cream right now, but we already had dessert. This is not up for discussion.” Then, walk away. Arguing only throws fuel on the fire.

Don’t Plead, Coax or Beg:

When your child is mid-tantrum, pleading with them to calm down or trying to coax them out of it is not effective and tends to just reward the behavior by giving it attention. Say in a calm, neutral tone something like “You are having a really hard time calming down right now. I’m going to be waiting over here when you feel better.” Then, withdraw your attention instead of rewarding their outburst.

Similarly, desperately begging your child to stop having a tantrum because their behavior is embarrassing or you just want the unpleasantness to end isn’t going to work either. Hold your head high and let them know through your actions that you expect them to get themselves under control, but avoid pleading or repeated firm demands to stop, as this makes it a confrontation.

Don’t Threaten Consequences You Can’t or Won’t Enforce:

In the desperation of the moment, parents often make idle threats like “If you don’t stop right now, we are leaving the playground, and you won’t get to have a playdate this weekend!” Not only is it unrealistic to leave every time a tantrum happens, but empty threats also teach your child that they can’t ignore you when you threaten something.

Only give consequences you are prepared to enforce consistently every single time. For example, warning your child they will sit in time out if they continue to throw toys instead of playing nicely is realistic. Just be prepared to calmly follow through right away when they cross the line, even if they escalate to a tantrum about time out. Otherwise, it’s an empty threat that trains them not to take you seriously.

Don’t Physically Intervene Unless Necessary:

Taking physical control of a tantrum-ing child should be an absolute last resort for safety reasons. If they are in danger of hurting themselves or others, you may have to physically contain them or block punches and kicks. But for verbal outbursts, crying, screaming or even throwing toys or harmless items (not at people of course!), there is no need for physical intervention.

Bear hugs, forcibly pinning their arms, harshly grabbing, or restraining should be avoided as it can injure children or inadvertently escalate the tantrum when they feel trapped and powerless. 

Don’t Punish or Discipline for Tantrums:

Punishing, disciplining, or imposing rigid consequences for developmentally normal toddler and preschooler tantrums is almost always counterproductive. It usually further intensifies the meltdown by sparking resentment, anger, and a sense of injustice in the child. They feel out of control in that state, not deliberately manipulative (though that can develop later if tantrums are too effective at getting their way). Harsh reactions can also erode the parent-child relationship over time.

Unless the tantrum behavior is atypical, extreme, and defiant, they are better addressed through prevention strategies, planned ignoring when possible, and social rewards once they are calm again. Underlying issues like communication struggles, immaturity, or sensory overload may be the cause rather than “bad behavior” that warrants discipline. Talk to your pediatrician if meltdowns are frequent or extreme before considering punishment.

Don’t Verbally Belittle Your Child:

In the heat of your own frustration, hurtful words can slip out that you later regret. Avoid comments like “You are embarrassing me!” “What is wrong with you?” “You’re acting like a baby!” “I’m going to call/get the police if you don’t stop!” or any other demeaning or shaming remarks.

Not only can these judgemental statements damage self-esteem and trust, but they also fail to model appropriate emotional control for dealing with anger and frustration. Take some deep breaths and remind yourself that mouthing off at your child may only make you feel better very temporarily while making the long-term situation much worse.

Don’t Force Them to Say Sorry or Give Hugs/Kisses:

When emotions are running high post-tantrum, forcing your child to apologize or give hugs they don’t want to further strain the relationship. Empty apologies under duress don’t have meaning anyway, and declining unwanted physical affection should always be respected.

Tell your child the behavior was not okay and restate appropriate expectations, but skip demands for forced penance. Focus instead on rebuilding connection through empathy once everyone is calm, not demands. Say something like, “I can see you were very angry and having a hard time, but we don’t hit people even if we feel mad. What do you think would help next time?”

Don’t Dwell on It Afterwards:

After the storm has passed, avoid repeatedly bringing up the earlier tantrum episode. Comments like “I hope we don’t have a repeat of this morning’s behavior today…” or “You sure got out of control earlier” just reopen sore feelings instead of moving on. If follow-up discussion or discipline is warranted, keep it brief and focused on practical problem-solving.

But if it was an isolated incident, let everyone decompress and reconnect afterward before going back to normal routines. Make it clear that you expect better behavior, but that you know they can get back on track. Display confidence in their ability to calm themselves and verbalize feelings.

The DOs: Healthier Responses Instead

While the list of “don’ts” may seem long, there are also a number of positive, constructive things you CAN do when faced with toddler or preschooler tantrums:

  • Stay calm and model emotional control. Speak gently while reinforcing limits.
  • Provide distractions or redirection when possible.
  • Give them space if needed (but supervise for safety).
  • Validate feelings and empathize once emotions decrease.
  • Discuss solutions for scenarios when tantrums might arise.
  • Focus discipline on coaching rather than punishing.
  • Please support them in learning words for big feelings.
  • Use preventative strategies proactively.
  • Provide lots of patient guidance as they practice self-regulation skills.
  • Lavish social praise for every small improvement and attempt at calmness.

The key is maintaining your own composure first, as much as humanly possible, then providing the loving structure, empathy, and nurturing that facilitates maturity in your child over the long haul.

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