Taming the Tantrum

Is your 7 year old, your 11 year old, your 14 year old, or your 18 year old throwing tantrums? Surely you didn’t think tantrums were reserved for pre-schoolers! Whether you are the mommy of a two year old, or the mother of a teenager, THIS IS FOR YOU! Picture this universal advice as it applies to your specific child, no matter what age.

Here is the third of three simple solutions to a common dilemma, none of which are going to be easy in the beginning. Check out what to do When She Doesn’t Listen To You and when you want to Help Kids Cope With Reality for more info. Remember, the better you teach your child how to cope within your home, the better she’ll be prepared to cope outside of your home.

Query: “So, my daughter is 2 and we all know the terrible twos but I need help. She isn’t listening to me at all when her daddy is away at work, and I’m not sure what to do…. Please, some advice would be great!”

First of all, be thankful for the tantrum.

You heard me. A tantrum signals an inability to cope that needs to be addressed. The alternative to a tantrum is your child internalizes her distress, and lets it fester. You are unaware because there’s no loud flag waving (unless she expresses it through headaches, nausea, lethargy, self-isolating, anxiety, etc.).

Secondly, let her have her tantrum. Sit with her and do something else (read a book, compose a grocery list, do sit-ups, braid your hair, paint your nails, text someone, etc.). Pretend if you can’t do it for real. I know its distressing to witness her misery, but remind yourself that you are on the path for reducing her anguish.

However, don’t physically face her. The energy of her distress will negatively impact you if you are receiving it head-on, which will wear you down. You need to stay out of the way of it, just as surely as you need to stay out of the way of her a little thrashing legs. (Feel free to wear noise-blocking headphones.) Sit beside her instead.

Thirdly, wait her out. Just like any fiery explosion you see in the movies, there is the huge combustive beginning, which rages for a bit, and then it dies out because it runs out of fuel.

It may astonish you how long your darling daughter, whether she’s two or twelve, can pitch a fit before she runs out of fuel, but rest assured, she will. When she gets worn out, she will stop. Waiting her out teaches her that the tantrum is a waste of time and energy on her part. Eventually she will seek alternatives for getting what she wants, like conversation. (Yay!)

I want to point out that waiting her out is MUCH more effective if you remain in the room with her sitting calmly. It conveys the message that you are there for her. It also provides you the opportunity to interact with her when she pauses to take a breath. You can take advantage of that moment by:

  • saying “I love you so much, even when you’re mad.”
  • handing her a tissue and saying, “I love you.”
  • asking if she’s done yet and saying, “I love you.”

If you feel yourself wearing down, like you’d really love to join in with a hissy fit of your own, take a quick break, and return. It will interrupt the pattern of the exchange.

You can calmly say:

  • I love you but I have to go to the bathroom. Keep going. I’ll be right back.
  • I love you but I need a drink. I’m going to get us both a glass of water, unless you want something else. Keep going. I’ll be right back.

When you get back, ask, “What did I miss?” She may engage in conversation at that point. However, if she resumes, continue with your activity, and periodically remind her that you love her.

For me the hardest thing to handle was the public tantrum. I accidentally learned that the way to handle them is no different than what I’ve described here. You just have to swallow your humiliation in front of the passersby, and with love and compassion, wait her out.

It turns out that passersby are mostly sympathetic, and 100% of them are thankful it’s not happening to them. You can forgive the judgy ones. Those sideways looks they send your way are actually pleas to relieve their own discomfort. They are simply reacting to your daughter’s distress, and the helplessness they feel about not being able to fix things.

What happens if you don’t wait her out?

If you allow embarrassment or frustration to force you to cave in, you will be providing a valuable button for your diva daughter to push. Say you hold out for 3 minutes before buckling. Your 7 year-old now knows to prepare to throw a 3-minute fit. If you last for 45 minutes, and fold on minute #46, your tween/teenager will know to gear up for a marathon ordeal. Why? Because you’ve provided her with the formula for success when it comes to getting her own way.

However, if you can endure, the small darling daughter will start using the alternatives that you teach her instead. (Read Help Kids Cope With Reality for strategies to teach her.) If you can heroically withstand the teenage volcanic eruption, your darling diva will actively seek an alternative approach for getting what she wants. Again, you can provide those alternate routes during a calm spell.

Lastly, be ready to receive your growing girl in a huge hug when it’s all over. Say, “We’ve both been through a lot. Let’s table this discussion until ____. Let’s (go for a walk, make some lemonade, sit on the porch, watch a rom com).” Have a positive ending prepared that will bolster you both back to normal.

By the way, did you notice that in order to modify your daughter’s frustrated response, you have to change what you do? If you want things to be different tomorrow, you have to do something different today. Find a calm moment and explain to your adolescent the new policies you’re going to put into place. (For suggestions on how to approache her, read When She Doesn’t Listen To You.) Remind her that you, and she, and the family will evolve together.

You got this, Mama!


I’m always looking for more content to share with you. If you have any queries you’d like me to address, reach out at info@DeborahAnnDavis.com

More soon. Wishing you health and happiness,

Parenting Skills Coach

Get “How To Keep Your Daughter From Slamming the Door” here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B089B67ZJN