PJ Parenting Roundtable: How Do You Handle Tantrums?



Every week PJ Parenting writers weigh in on parenting issues large and small and you have the opportunity to share your insights in the comments section below. We’d love it if you’d join us for a cup of coffee and some great conversation!


Question: How do you handle tantrums and meltdowns? 


Brianna Sharbaugh: The awful thing about tantrums is that you usually just have to wait them out. My mom tells stories about literally walking OVER my younger sister in the middle of department stores because there was nothing that could be done until she calmed down (I hated public spectacles–still do–so my tantrums were mostly at home!). While her fellow shoppers looked at my mom with disgust, it really was the best way to handle her meltdowns.

When at home, we tell our toddler he can calm down wherever were are playing or he can go to his room. Typically, he takes a deep breath and starts to settle, but if not, he is taken to his crib for a minute or two. At times he will just voluntarily go to his room now if he feels himself getting upset.

In public I spend a lot of time in prayer! Desperate prayer! I find that my touch usually helps our son to calm, but if that is not working, I try to find the safest and least disruptive place (sometimes going to the car) to wait for the storm to pass. Our biggest goal when it comes to tantrums, and what we talk to our toddler about frequently, is exercising self control. Whether at home or in public we encourage our son to “find some self control.” It is a virtue that will suit our son well for the rest of his life  so it’s what we strive to teach through every tantrum.

Bethany Mandel:  My mom handled them in much the same way. Tantrums were ignored. I was left in an aisle if I had a meltdown in it. My mom would yell over the sound of my screams, “I’ll see you at checkout” and she’d wait for me there. I very quickly learned a tantrum was the guaranteed way for me not to get my way. I have a two-year old as of next week who, thankfully, hasn’t started on them yet, but when (dare I say if!) she does, I’ll handle tantrums in the same way.

Jamie Wilson: My typical method was ignoring, until we got to my youngest son, who is autistic. Ignoring does not work on an autistic child unless you’re in a quiet place — and of course, tantrums don’t ever come on in a quiet place. My husband worked out the perfect solution. My son loves his name, so one day in the middle of an epic meltdown on a shopping center sidewalk he snapped, “Fine. If you’re going to act like that, you don’t need a cool name like Hunter. So I’m taking it away from you. Until you stop this, your name will be Zelbert.”

It was as if someone had thrown cold water in Hunter’s face. Literally, within seconds, he had himself under control, and though he was still upset, he held it together until we got to the car and he could calm down. Until he was a teen, when his behavior improved, we were able to curtail oncoming meltdowns by asking if Zelbert was coming out again. The practice helped him learn self-control and made an enormous difference in his coping with autism.

Megan Fox: Tantrums in public are easy. You pick up and leave (no matter how full the grocery cart is). And in our house, tantrums in public come with automatic punishment (usually the loss of a favorite thing). But a tantrum at home is more difficult. I tend to feel that home is an appropriate place to scream into your pillow if you feel the need. Everyone needs to cry and wail sometimes, but that needs to happen in your room with the door closed. I send my tantruming children to their rooms under strict instruction that they may cry and wail, but they may not come out until they are ready to be calm. For the most part, it works. After the storm passes we can talk about why they freaked out. Sometimes they do not go willingly to their rooms, so it requires physical strength to hoist a kicking child up some stairs and deposit her in the room. On the rare occasion that they refuse to stay in the room, then they get a punishment. I generally do not punish for tantrums at home unless during the tantrum they are defiant. But if they are willing to sequester themselves to have their outburst in an appropriate place, then they are free to do that.

I don’t think the act of screaming and crying (even over something silly) is grounds for punishment. Children don’t have control over their emotions. What I’m trying to teach them is where to go when the emotions spill over. Home is a safe place. It’s the place to have a yelling fit if you’re going to have it. Lord knows I have. This has worked pretty well because the tantrums in public are few and far between. They have learned to hold it in until they get home.

Julie Prince: Fabulous girls! I handled tantrums with my older kids by removing them immediately from the situation. If we were at the store, I left — sometimes leaving behind an entire cart of groceries. When I got them home, they would have to sit on their beds for 25 minutes. It worked with my older two because I rarely had that happen again after that.

I am doing the same thing with my youngest who is 4 and experimenting with a new tactic as well. His thing isn’t tantrums, but he prefers to whine over and over about getting a toy. If he starts doing it, I buy a toy and we visit the local “Goodwill” charity and we donate it. It is teaching him that even though we are blessed with the ability to buy toys, we can’t get one every time we go to the store. He really enjoys going there now to give “some other little child” a special toy and the whining/tantrums have become much less. I think some of my new gray hairs on my head have come from tantrums and whining over the years! Good times…good times!

Kristina Ribali: My son never threw tantrums, and when he saw other kids acting up, he was quick to give his input.  One time in the grocery store he saw a kid kicking and screaming and throwing a fit in the candy aisle. As we passed by the child and his mom, my son leaned over the side of the cart, cupped his hands over his ears and said firmly to the boy, “Lower your voice, my goodness!” He was such an easy child, we thought, ‘Sure, let’s have more!’

Then, my daughter was born.  She could throw a tantrum to end all tantrums, although she didn’t throw many. We always handled them the same way — remove her from the situation and give her a private place to quiet down. This was usually in the nook on the staircase or as she got older, in her room.  We never gave into her demands.

If she threw a fit at dinner time, we removed her to her room and refused to allow her to ruin our meal time. When she was 3 years old, after she had been crying for about a half an hour in her room, I opened her door and asked, “Done yet?”  Her response will be forever seared in my brain: “No mom, I need a few more moments to collect my thinking and my tears. You know, being a girl is so hard.”

She didn’t have many full blown tantrums past age 3, and as she got older, when her friends would try to get her to push harder for me to change my mind or allow her to do something we had already said no to, I caught her on several occasions saying, “My mom is not going to change her mind.  Trust me.” Sticking to our guns stuck with her.

I’m not sure what you call the challenges we’re having now at age 12, almost 13. They’re not tantrums, they’re more like power struggles.  I’ll be honest, even though I raised my nieces, I feel wholly unprepared for the next several years. Help!

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

See previous PJ Parenting Roundtables:

Helicopter or Free Range Parenting?

How Often Do You Give Your Children Baths?

How Do You Explain Pictures of Deceased Family Members to Kids?

Do You Allow Your Kids to Say ‘I Hate You’?

What’s the Best (And Worst) Parenting Advice You’ve Ever Received?

Should Parents Trust Their Instincts or the Experts?

Straight Talk About the Vaccination Controversy

Book Recommendations 

Advice for Overwhelmed New Moms