Defuse Temper Tantrums With Empathy

Defuse Temper Tantrums With Empathy

Children — and even adults — can have short fuses. Whether the person is five or 45, Real Simple offers advice for how to quickly deal with meltdowns and fits of rage.

Picture: mdanys/Flickr

The solution for all situations is to first acknowledge what’s bothering the other person and then suggest a better way to deal with the issue:

One reason people throw tantrums is that they want to be heard, says Susan Orenstein, a psychologist in Cary, North Carolina, who focuses on marriage and relationships. “They grow louder and more animated as a way to get attention and show you that this issue is important to them.” So let the tantrum thrower know you feel his pain. This doesn’t mean you have to agree. A simple “I understand you’re angry” will suffice. With kids, it’s also important to let them know that it’s OK to express emotion, but in an appropriate way. You might say to a toddler, “I understand that you’re frustrated that you can’t get the refrigerator open,” and then explain a better way to react: “If you would ask me to please help you, I’d love to.”

Dr Harvey Karp also recommends a similar strategy in his Happiest Toddler on the Block book, where you essentially repeat or state exactly how the child is feeling. It takes patience, no doubt, but it’s better than screaming back at the person who’s in the midst of a meltdown.

Check out Real Simple’s article for strategies for every age.

How to Handle Temper Tantrums [Real Simple]


  • In my experience doing this might fix the tantrum the first time but generally what happens next is more frequent tantrums. Once the tantrumee figures out that they can get what they want by acting like a dick it’s game over! This is more a child’s reaction but generally if an adult throws a tantee then immaturity is more likely the problem. I find ignoring them will send the message that throwing a tantrum gets you nowhere.

  • My parents told me I had one tantrum in my life. They dealt with it (in my opinion the proper way) right there and then and it never happened again.

    I’m certainly not going to try to reason with a screaming 2 year old when I have one.

  • Having parented two toddlers, I can attest to the fact that trying to reason with a toddler throwing a tantrum is a massive mistake.

    Toddlers are not adults, therefore trying to reason with them like you would an adult is useless.

    What has worked for us, is this: Toddler throws tantrum by screaming hysterically and thrashing about on the floor. Parent waits patiently until the toddler calms or even pauses to take a breath, and then attempts to soothe the toddler. Soon the toddler comes to realise that tantruming does not bring comfort or attention, but settling down and being calm does. Our toddlers still throw tantrums every now and then, which is normal, but they now give up after a minute compared to, say, 15 minutes.

    The key is trying not to react in anger or frustration during the tantrum as this adds fuel to the toddler’s fire. Imagine being irrationally angry and having someone yell at you – it makes you even angrier. As a parent, staying calm is the single hardest thing to do, especially if you have a short fuse yourself (as I do).

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