“Tantrums” are normal reactions from kids that almost every parent deals with at some point. They can be frustrating and scary for us, particularly if we do not have the tools to guide our children through them in a healthy way. Understanding where they come from can be endlessly helpful. Tantrums are urgent, overwhelming panic responses in a child’s brain.
The valuable and insightful book The Science of Parenting: How today’s brain research can help you raise happy, emotionally balanced children by Margot Sunderland states, “A distress tantrum means that one or more of the three alarm systems (rage, fear and/or separation) in your child’s lower brain has been very strongly activated. As a result, your child’s arousal system will be way out of balance, with too-high levels of stress chemicals searing through his body and brain. Distress tantrums happen because essential brain pathways between a child’s higher brain and his lower brain haven’t developed yet. These brain pathways are necessary to enable a child to manage his big feelings. As a parent, your role is to soothe your child while he experiences the huge hormonal storms in his brain and body.” 
Remembering that this is a biological response can help parents approach the situation with compassion rather than frustration. I wanted to title this “10 Tips to Tame a Tantrum” because it’s catchy, but I recognize that it could potentially seem dismissive of what a child is going through. The aim is not quite to “tame” them, but rather gently guide them through their feelings. Reading tips like this on a regular basis helps me be the parent I want to be!
- Empathize, empathize, empathize. Children are still learning emotional regulation and impulse control. They have tantrums the same way adults might feel emotionally overwhelmed after a very long, trying day. Comfort them the way you’d want to be comforted when your emotions feel out of control.
- Avoid the panic response. It can be intense and embarrassing to deal with tantrums, especially in public with many watchful, judgmental eyes. But panicking can provoke an urge to control and shame our kids, rather than empathize with them. Ignore the outside world and focus on the best way to comfort your child.
- Remember to breathe. Place your hand on your heart, take a deep breath, and take a moment to center yourself. This will help calm yourself and your child. Do this before you react.
- Make eye contact. Get down on your child’s level. Children have such a hard time absorbing information when we talk over them instead of talking to them. Making eye contact can reconnect you with your child, calming them and making cooperation more likely.
- Show affection. If your child consents to being touched or held at that time, hug them, rub their back, pick them up. Physical comfort can have a calming effect on you both.
- Offer a snack. The difference in kids’ behavior when they are content and when they are hungry can be tremendous. Keep healthy snacks handy, especially when you’re going to be out of the house for a while. Apple slices, nut and dried fruit bars, carrot sticks, homemade crackers, bananas, etc. are great choices.
- Get some rest. Go lay down with your child for a bit. Snuggle and take a nap if possible. Being overtired greatly intensifies emotional reactions, in both children and adults.
- Water! Offer a drink of water and give your child a bath. Simply changing the environment can help calm kids when they are in the throws of heightened emotions.
- Go outside. Fresh air works wonders. Being in nature can be therapeutic for children and adults alike. Sometimes kids just have extra energy they need to burn off, and being cooped up indoors can overwhelm them.
- Use fun/whimsy/distraction. Distraction can be a negative way to brush off a child’s feelings, but sometimes it is the best way to help them regulate themselves. Tell a magical story, discuss their favorite new subject, sing a funny song, act silly, do jumping jacks, etc.