Family, Kids & Relationships

The Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing With Tantrums, According To a Family Therapist

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You’ve heard of the “terrible twos,” right? Well they don’t always end at 2. Sometimes it’s the terrible threes and fours, too—at least it was for my sons!

Dealing with meltdowns is never easy, so our ParentsTogether team reached out to an expert for some Do’s and Don’ts.

First, the Don’ts:

If your little one starts to have a meltdown, try not to rush over to calm or reason with him, even if you’re in public.

“A child this age doesn’t have access to the part of the brain that makes sense of the injustice,” Susan Stiffleman, a licensed family therapist and the author of Parenting Without Struggles, told us.

Simply put, they lack the capacity to accept defeat—which is a really nice way of saying they can turn into mini monsters when things don’t go their way—and trying to use logic to talk them out of it usually won’t work.

Also try not to tell them to just calm down, Susan advised, which usually irritates more than it soothes. (Hey, it generally irritates adults too, right?)

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely been guilty of both trying to reason with my out-of-control kiddos…and asking them to just “calm down.”  So what SHOULD we do???

Luckily Susan has some great suggestions for what might help when tantrums strike! “Try putting your hand on your heart and take three quieting breaths. You’ll end up role modeling how to calm down rather than just telling your little one to calm down.”

Another option: Go to the nearest restroom and run their hands under warm water. “It’s like you’re breaking the spell of the outrage by giving their nervous system a new sensory experience,” Susan says.

If your little one likes to feel in control, let him choose an aromatherapy scent that makes him feel good, and tell him it’s OK to spritz it anytime he’s upset. “It gives kids something to do, which feels empowering,” Susan says. “It’s like having their very own calming spray.”

I tried these tips with my kids, and they worked! Of course, that didn’t stop them from having meltdowns altogether (sometimes as soon as 10 minutes later), but being able to move on smoothly from those moments is a huge parenting win. 🙌

Robyn is Editor-in-Chief at ParentsTogether and is co-author of several NYTimes bestselling anthologies. She lives in southern Michigan with her husband and five children.