Tantrum Help from a Philly Expert

Because tantrums suck, and we’ll take all the help we can get. Read more

Philadelphia Brandi Davis child and family coaching

If you’re like me, then by now you’ve read (okay, scanned) basically every book ever written on two topics: 1) baby sleep and 2) toddler tantrums. We’ve posted multiple times about the former (like here, and here), but not really a whole bunch on the latter. So we decided to ask local parenting coach Brandi Davis* to answer some of our most pressing questions on the tantrum issue. (Note: Brandi not only a trained and certified parenting coach and a teacher, but she’s great when you see her in action with kids.)


Let’s get right to it. Can you give us a few good ways to cope with a public tantrum? (Or a tantrum at home, for that matter.)
–If you have the time, let the tantrum run its course.
It is very hard to try to talk to or reason with children (or grown-ups) when their emotions and adrenaline are at their highest point. Make sure that your child is in a safe space and let them have at it. If you are in public, try to find a quieter space to move your child to. Remember EVERYONE has been there, even that person who you feel is looking at you with judgment and horror. Their kid has done it, too, OR they do not have kids, and don’t understand anyway, so just ignore them. Keep in mind that there are many more who know just what you are going through.
—Find the YES. Try to avoid tantrums by finding something to say YES to. “It’s raining so we cannot blow bubbles outside, why don’t we fill a bath and you can take the bubbles in there?” “We don’t have time for a full movie, but would you like a shorter Dora show before bed?” We are so quick to give a NO, but finding a yes can avoid a major meltdown.
Know the tantrum tells. What does your child look like before a tantrum? Does she get red? Teary? Does he ball his fists? Figure out those tells and then you can try to stop a tantrum before it starts. “You look like you are getting upset, how can I help you?” “You look like you are feeling a lot. What is going on?”
Breath. Stay calm. Find your happy place. You cannot yell away or discipline away a tantrum. If you are yelling it will only escalate the tantrum. Stay calm and rational. Someone has to, and it’s probably NOT going to be your toddler.

In terms of keeping calm, are there any words or phrases that you think work really well in a tantrum situation? Are there words, phrases or habits you think we should try to avoid?
Depending on the age of the toddler, you can TALK to him or her about an idea or situation, but reasoning can become a bit too in depth and complicated. You can explain why you cannot go outside (it’s raining), and what you can do instead (play inside, watch a movie, bake a pie …). The thing about reasoning is that it can quickly devolve into a negotiation, and you don’t want that. Negotiations do not end well, EVER. Your child CAN express his or her feelings and thoughts, but it is not a boardroom. What you can add to the conversation to avoid tantrums are choices: “It is cold today. Would you like to play inside at home or go to a museum?” “Would you like to wear your green or red shoes?” “You need a bath, would you like it now or in 5 minutes?” These choices can go a long way in avoiding a tantrum in the first place, which is really what you are going for.

And if it’s unavoidable?
Well, tantrums are loud and stressful, but avoid the temptation to throw in the towel and give in. If you say NO, it is NO. If you get annoyed or frustrated and give in you are heading down a path that will lead to more tantrums. Be clear and end the conversation; that technique can help you avoid a tantrum — or at least create a less intense one. The more that we talk and try to reason and explain our side, that more intense the tantrum gets because a child want to keep arguing HIS side, and all of our NO talk gets him more and more upset. “I was clear. You can have a sandwich or pasta for lunch. You may not have a cookie. When you are ready to chose I will be happy to make your lunch and sit with you, but I will not talk about the cookie anymore.”

What’s a reasonable goal to be working toward when it comes to tantrums? Obviously, no matter how diligent and rational and firm we are, we can still expect some meltdowns, right?
The goal that you are working toward are fewer and shorter tantrums. There is no way to eliminate them completely. Let’s be honest here: We may not throw ourselves on the floor, but we have a tantrum from time to time, and can act a bit irrational as well. So for toddlers? Just shoot for fewer and shorter tantrums and work on staying calm. You can also work on helping your child find ways to cope when things do not go her way. She can talk it out, quietly cry, read a book, find her favorite doll, ask for a hug. This will be a tool that she can carry with her: How to deal when things don’t go her way.

Lastly: What to do when the kid melts down in a place that’s simply unacceptable for a freak-out?Sometimes your kid loses it in a place that he just cannot tantrum — an airplane, a wedding, your in-laws’ house, wherever. If this is the case, you just do whatever you can to stop it. Give your kid the cookie, say that you will get him that doll that he wants, whatever it is that you feel comfortable with and that will get you through the situation. I call it Emergency Parenting. There are some times you just gotta do what ya gotta do to survive, even if most of the time you should follow the ideas above.
Here is the truth about tantrums: They are NOT just a phase. If you don’t work on eliminating them and decreasing the intensity, you WILL have a 10-year-old who throws major fits. (Think hard: I bet you know a grown-up or two that STILL cannot handle hearing the word NO.) Stay calm, stay clear about your child’s choices and your expectations, stay consistent in your reactions and you’ll see tantrums fade away and become less intense.

Got more questions about parenting situations? Check out Brandi’s site… she also offers super-popular webinars!


brandi davis child and family coaching

*About our expert: Brandi Davis, ACC, of Child and Family Coaching, is a certified Parenting Coach and Author of O.K. I’m a Parent, Now What? Brandi also lectures at multiple colleges, childcare centers and businesses, and has been published in several local and national publications. Through personal coaching sessions, blogs, podcasts, parent workshops, and tele-classes, she presents new strategies and solutions that parents can work into their family, guiding them on their journey to realize their personal dream of a happy, loving, and cooperative family.