Temper Tantrums

to stay or not to stay?

Every spring now I have delighted in the changes around me in nature AND been perplexed by what I’ve observed in all my darling young charges. They cry at the drop of hat, for seemingly the most inconsequential reasons. They pick fights with their friends, their siblings, their parents, and ME! They are ornery and defiant. And finally, they throw temper tantrums like there is no tomorrow.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many approaches to temper tantrums I’ve tried in the last 25 years. Some of them are down right embarrassing, so I’m hoping to help you avoid some of the many mistakes I’ve made. The one thing I know for certain, after all these years, is that you can’t fix a tantrum.

If you try to control or stop the tantrum, your clever child might stop for the moment, and then either resume shortly thereafter or store up how they feel about you. This usually looks like anger, frustration or disbelief at how incredibly foolish it is of you to do what you are doing. Yes, in some ways they ARE far more wise than we are.

Worse yet, as a result of a couple of these experiences, your child will use these opportunities to show you just how much THEY are in charge. Such as cornering you to see if you are going to make good with your threats at the worst possible moments, like at a play date or in a restaurant

If you try to change the child’s experience by “fixing” it, your child will get the message that all they have to do is have a fit to get your attention, or that they can’t count on you to set boundaries and hence they feel unsafe or they figure out that they need something or someone outside themselves to “fix” how they feel.

When your child is having a temper tantrum, you need to decide whether you want to stay close or walk away. Some parents can’t stay in the room, while others can’t walk away. And, every child is different. Some children need to be alone to calm down and work through their feelings. Other children cannot stand to see their parent walk away and will follow them eveywhere, increasing the intensity of the tantrum as they go.

If you decide to walk away...

Make sure your child is safe.

Tell your child what you’re going to do and where she can find you when she is ready AT A NEUTRAL TIME.

Ground yourself by journaling, screaming into a pillow, taking a shower, or whatever it takes.

Be ready to welcome your child with love, compassion, and understanding.

If you decide to stay...
(this will take some training)

Get a 3 minute egg timer, the kind in which you can see the sand falling.

Have a chat with your child and explore what happens to her body when she feels a tantrum coming on. Pin point the physical sensations so that she can recognize them for herself and have options in the future.

Tell your child that when she feels a tantrum coming on, to run and get the timer.

Agree that when she brings the timer you will stop what you are doing, sit down and listen to her for the full 3 minutes.

During this time, keep your mouth closed. You are listening, period.
At the completion of the timer, give her a hug and both of you go back to your own business.


In a nutshell, no one enjoys having or listening to a melt down. Find ways to help everyone get their needs met, yours too.