6 Ways to Gently Respond To A Tantrum

Written by Ariadne Brill on July 19th, 2013

This entry was posted in Gentle Discipline and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

responding to tantrum

Children most often have tantrums when they are feeling overwhelmed and unable to express their frustration, anger or upset feelings.

Although popular advice may center around ignoring, walking away or using time-outs, gently responding to a tantrum is a wonderful way to connect and meet a young child’s needs and help them learn self regulation skills.

Below are six ideas that can help you respond calmly when your child gets upset.

6 Gentle Ways to Respond to a Tantrum

  1. Be present: Staying close by and supporting a child during their tantrum is a gentle and kind way to let a child know they have support to feel their feelings fully. While it may not be easy to just sit and watch, children often just need a kind and compassionate presence during a tantrum.
  2. Make Eye Contact: It’s tempting to walk away from a tantruming child, but often, trying to establish some non threatening face-to-face contact can help a child sense your genuine concern and feel validated.
  3. Use kind words: Using gentle and kind words sparingly during the tantrum such as “I love you”, “I’m here for you” and “I’m on your side” can help a child to re-center and find a positive mindset. Plus focusing on kind words can help us not lose sight of staying positive and helping our child cope.
  4. Kind Hands: Offering a hug or a hand to hold can be a very grounding yet positive way to connect with a child and help a tantrum subside. By using touch in a positive manner we also help children learn that even while upset or angry, hands can be using in a positive way and not for harming others. Sometimes children don’t want to be touched, that is ok too, in that case, just try being close by for support.
  5. Listen: Children often need someone to help them reflect on their choices or sort out their feelings. Listening and repeating back to a child what we understand makes a child feel better understood. Often this can avoid a tantrum all together, and is a great way to decode some of the frustration.
  6. Focus on solutions: Once you have been able to connect trough touch, eye contact and listening, invite you child to help you find a possible solution to whatever caused the initial tantrum. It’s possible that your child really just couldn’t express their need without some help and became frustrated, or that a need such as tiredness, hunger or some attention may be needed.

An example of how I responded to my three year old’s strong feelings.

Recently at the start of the day, my soon to be three year old daughter was refusing to eat her breakfast. The bowl and spoon were not the ones she wanted. She left the table and started to cry. First I gave her some space, and after a little bit, I walked over to where she was and sat on the floor nearby. I let her know I was there if she needed or wanted me. “I can offer you a hug,” I said softly. First she cried a little more and louder, but then within about 30 seconds, she crawled into my lap, gave me a huge hug and a teary eyed kiss. She sat there for another minute or so then walked to the table and promptly ate her breakfast, with that same bowl and spoon! 

Children, just like grown-ups, become frustrated, and there are many times when we need to set a limit our children may not like. Such moments may lead to tears or tantrums. Children must feel a full range of emotions, frustration included, for healthy development. Gently responding to tantrums and remembering to also meet their needs does not equal being manipulated or tricked.

Positive interactions, especially during upset feelings, are what help children cope with a host of feelings as they grow and create trust between parent and child.

Do you find it difficult to respond sensitively to tantrums? If so, what moments are most challenging to you?

About The Author: Ariadne Brill

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Ariadne is a busy and happy mama to three curious and spunky children and a Certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. Ariadne practices peaceful, playful and positive parenting and to avoid doing the laundry she created the Positive Parenting Connection to share resources and ideas with other parents. Ariadne believes parenting is not about perfection but connection and making time to have fun! Find her on  Facebook

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