10 Gentle Tips to Tame a Tantrum

Tantrums are a common, but challenging phase of parenting. Here are ten gentle parenting tips that can help.

A tantrum is a normal reaction from children which 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 beneficial.

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.” [1]

Related: 10 Ways to Stop a (Grown Up!) Temper Tantrum

Remembering that this is a biological response — not misbehavior — can help parents approach the situation with compassion rather than frustration. Save these tips and read them whenever you feel the need. Reading tips like this on a regular basis helps me be the parent I want to be!

1. Empathize, empathize, empathize.

Children are still learning emotional regulation and impulse control.  They have tantrums the same way adults feel emotionally overwhelmed after a long, trying day.  Comfort them the way you’d want to be comforted when your emotions feel out of control. Remember that they are learning and growing, and they learn the most from you.

2. 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. If you catch yourself feeling embarrassed or flustered and it affects your connection with your child in the moment, remember that your duty is to your child, not random people in public.

3. Remember to breathe.

Place your hand on your chest, take a deep breath, and take a moment to center yourself.  This will help calm yourself and your child.  Do this before you react. You can also take time, when the child is calm and comfortable, to teach them how to take deep breathes. Practice at home and it will be helpful during times of big emotions.

4. 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. Making eye contact helps us all remember we are human.

5. 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. If you toddler-wear, offer to put your child in the carrier for some closeness.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. Water!

Offer a drink of water, give your child a bath, or get out some water balloons, squirt guns, or wet sensory play.  Simply changing the environment can help calm kids when they are in the middle of heightened emotions.  

9. 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.

10. 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 — whatever boosts the mood.

The most important aspect of helping kids through their feelings is connection. The more connected we are with our children — viewing their behavior as an age-appropriate phase rather than “bad behavior” — the better off each of us will be.


1. The Science of Parenting: How today’s brain research can help you raise happy, emotionally balanced children. Sunderland, M.

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