14 Temper Tantrum Tricks from Real Parents
Try a Time-Out
"When my 16-month-old is acting out, I put her in a chair and hold her there with my hand on her abdomen. When a child that young has a meltdown, they often don't know how to pull themselves together. So I just hold her there and tell her to breathe deeply. We stay there until she calms down and I can talk to her about what happened."
- Michelle LaRowe, Hyannis, Massachusetts
Give Her a Squeeze
"It sounds crazy, but sometimes when dealing with 4-year-old tantrums, I give my daughter big hugs. It works almost every time—if I can control my own temper and anger to remember to give her a big squeeze. I guess it makes her feel safe and reminds her about how much I love her. Normally, after a big hug, we can talk more rationally and address what started the tantrum in the first place."
- Chris Harbison, West Islip, New York
Look the Other Way
"With my 2-year-old, I basically just ignore her when she drops to the floor in a tantrum. She stops when she doesn't get attention or what she wants. When she stomps her feet and screams when she is frustrated, I ask her to calm down and try to use her words. So far this is working."
- Alison Shields, Fair Lawn, New Jersey
Offer an Alternative
"My 21-month-old gets frustrated when he is not allowed to do everything his 5-year-old brother does. When he is really upset he will start banging his head against the floor. At first I was really alarmed by this. I started giving him a pillow, which many times only made him more upset. The one thing that seemed to work was saying, 'I know you are frustrated. Are you done hitting your head? When you are we can go read a book.' Eventually the idea of doing something else got him to stop."
- Heather Martin, Franklin, Massachusetts
Never Give In
"If my 4-year-old acts out because he wants a cookie, then there is just no way he is going to get a cookie. And if he continues with that type of behavior, then he'll start losing other things as well. Now he realizes that tantrums and meltdowns are not going to get him anywhere, so he just doesn't have them."
- Tanya Mitchell, Monument, Colorado
Give Him an Ultimatum
"When my 3-year-old acts up, I remind him of something fun we have planned—like a playdate or a trip to the park—and then I let him know that if he can't handle it and behave, then we'll have to cancel the outing. That usually gets him to calm down pretty quickly."
- Tina Bryson, Los Angeles, California
Keep Him Busy
"I don't want to worry about my 5-year-old acting out at the store, so I make sure to continuously engage him with activities and create tasks for him: Bring me this, look for that, hold this for a second, identify the color of a sign, watch the lobsters in their aquarium, and so forth. His little mind is so busy trying to help and catch up that he has no time to think about throwing a fit."
-Barack Levin, Atlanta, Georgia
Find the Fun
"Backing my 6-year-old into a corner and demanding he do what I need him to do just doesn't work—and it usually results in a tantrum. But I have found that he can be easily redirected. So when he starts to whine or throw a fit about doing something, I turn that activity into a game. If I can find some way to make it fun, then he's on board."
- Kelly Lopez, Framingham, Massachusetts
Change the Location
When my 3-year-old is having a tantrum, I pick him up and bring him into another room, even if it's to put him in his crib for a time-out. But removing him from whatever started the meltdown usually helps to stop it. And picking him up and holding him also offers some comfort to help him calm down."
- Carrie Henick, Smithtown, New York
"My 22-month-old throws tantrums that can last up to—yikes!—20 minutes. We've taught her some words in sign language, but if she wants something like a movie, she won't know how to ask for it— and still freaks out. So I say, 'Show me what you want,' and then I see if she'll point to it. It's not always obvious, but with a little time and practice you begin to communicate better. If she points to her older brother, for example, that usually means that he's snatched something away from her, and I can ask him to give it back. I can't tell you how many awful, drawn-out meltdowns we've avoided this way!"
- Melanie Pelosi, West Windsor, New Jersey
"My purse is filled with all sorts of distractions, like toys (ones my kids haven't seen in a while), books, and yummy snacks. I've found that distraction can help ward off a major meltdown before it happens, if you catch it in time."
- Alisa Fitzgerald, Boxford, Massachusetts
Let Her See
"My 3-year-old daughter has a fit over the littlest thing. If I don't give her what she wants, she'll scream 'Oh my God!' and throw herself onto the floor. I send her to her room to calm down, and while she's there she watches herself in the mirror. After about five minutes of seeing herself in action, the temper tantrum ends."
- Valerie, Syracuse, New York
"When my 4-year-old starts to throw a tantrum at home, I often start singing a silly song at the top of my lungs. It immediately grabs her attention, and she starts laughing and singing along. It's a great way to turn lemons into lemonade!"
- Maresa, Lake City, Arkansas
"When my son, Aiden, decides to throw one of his tantrums, I take action immediately. First, I explain what he is doing wrong. Maintaining eye contact is key. Then he sits in a time-out without television or music, and we count to 26 (his age in months). I picked up this idea from a good friend of mine. It allows me to address my son's tantrum while also teaching him how to count. If he's still upset after counting to 26, we start counting again."
-Susan, Colfax, Wisconsin