How NOT to Respond to Tantrums in Children

When your child throws a tantrum, try to understand what's happening. Don't respond to tantrums with yelling, violence, and threats.
How NOT to Respond to Tantrums in Children
Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 15 August, 2023

Handling your child’s tantrums can be tricky. Sometimes you may even feel like you’ve tried everything – punishing and not punishing, being patient, speaking softly, yelling, and more – and still, nothing works. Or, even worse, your child challenges you even more. With that in mind, we want to provide a guide on how not to respond to your child’s tantrums.

The truth is that many times, when faced with a child’s tantrum, people tend to apply rigid rules, perhaps forgetting that each situation is unique. In other words, they forget to analyze the situation, the child’s age, and what could be causing the anger, among other issues.

So, parents just react. And many times, without realizing it, they achieve just the opposite of what they want. Keep reading to learn more.

How not to respond to tantrums in children

As parents, we know that the stress of everyday life, work, school, children, and all the situations we go through, can make us feel overwhelmed at times and with little patience to act in a good way when our child has a tantrum.

Although it’s normal to feel this way, it’s important to take into account that this is a child who’s just learning. Therefore, we’ll give you some recommendations of what you shouldn’t do when your child goes through one of these moments.

Avoid using yelling or violence to respond to tantrums

Avoid behaving even worse than your child. As an adult, you should be an example and try to be calm. Beyond the fact that no child deserves to be mistreated (whether or not they have a tantrum), yelling, insulting, or using violence puts the child’s brain “in check”.

That is, these signals are interpreted with greater stress, so more cortisol is released into the body and the situation becomes even more explosive, according to an article published in the journal International Journal of Psychological Research. Therefore, this type of behavior intensifies the situation even more, which is exactly what you want to keep from happening.

A mother scolding a crying child.

Don’t use labels or hurtful comments

Those expressions such as “You’re disobedient”, and “You end up ruining every outing we go on”, among others, have a very negative impact on your child. Responding to a tantrum doesn’t have to involve an attack on the child or their identity.

Don’t make threats

Avoid falling into the temptation of telling them that someday you’re going to leave home or that you’re going to “call the police” to take them away. These comments only create insecurity and fear regarding the parental bond, which makes no sense and is excessive for a tantrum. In the end, you end up not following through. And what’s the result? You generate discomfort while undermining your own authority.

Avoid comparisons with siblings and other children

Far from being a learning experience, this can be hurtful and stigmatizing. Remember that many times, your child can’t control their emotions and doesn’t do what they want, but what they can.

How to respond to your child’s tantrums

When your child has a tantrum, you should know that the parts of their brain that are intervening are the amygdalae, located in the limbic brain, also known as the “emotional brain.” These structures are characterized by acting in an automatic, involuntary, and unconscious way.

That is, the anger is “out of control.” Now, what’s not out of control and what we can manage is what to do with that emotion.

Behavior is very different from emotion and, with patience, that’s the message you must convey to the child. “I understand that you’re angry because your brother doesn’t want to play the same game as you (emotion), but it’s not okay and you have no right to push them or yell at them” (behavior).

Here are some suggestions you can try if you’re looking to bring calm to your child.

Try to understand what’s going on

When your child has a tantrum, they’re actually trying to communicate their emotions to you. So, instead of scolding them, approach them and ask them what’s going on, how you can help them, and what they need to feel better.

Rage and anger are emotions, and they exist because they have a message to give us. At first, as an adult, you’ll “lend” them the words to walk the path that will lead them to understand how they feel and how to ask for what they need.

Then, throughout their development, your child will be able to do it by themself. But, if you deny them the possibility of discovering all their emotions, they’ll always have a limited view of what’s happening to them.

Try joining them in breathing exercises

Breathing practice can be like an oasis in the desert. When children are having a tantrum, what’s actually happening in their brain is the experience of an accumulation of emotions that they don’t know how to resolve. They need help, and the way they find to express themselves is through a tantrum.

That’s why breathing exercises can be a good way to help them calm down and then find out what’s happening to them or be able to communicate their emotions more clearly.

Learn to foresee possible tantrums

In general, there are various factors that can trigger an intense tantrum in children , for example, hunger, sleepiness, fatigue, and not being able to get what they want, among others. So, you should observe their behavior and try to intervene beforehand.

For example, if you’re going for a long walk and you know that in the middle of the morning, you’re child’s usually hungry, plan a time to eat and have some food on hand. You can also explain that the plan for the day will be different and that they may not eat lunch at home as usual, but that it might be fun to do something different.

Or, if you’re buying a gift for a cousin and you know there’ll be a lot of toys, but you won’t be able to buy your child any, you can point out that the gift is for their cousin’s birthday. Explain that it’s not their turn this time, but that when they get home, they can play with all the toys they got for their last birthday.

In other words, anticipation and knowing what’s going to happen can be very helpful in some cases.

A black father knealing down to talk to his crying daughter.

Think about the message you want to convey before you respond to tantrums

Your role as an adult is to think about what kind of response is appropriate for your child, rather than simply reacting. You need to remember that your behavior communicates. Therefore, by observing it, your child will learn more from your example than from anything else.

Also, by thinking about the message you want to convey before you act, you can be aware of how your actions can influence your child’s development and growth. Consider the long-term impact of your words and behaviors on their self-esteem, confidence, and social skills.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Fayne Esquivel Y Ancona, M., García Cabrero, B., Montero Y López Lena, M., & Valencia Cruz, A. (2013). Regulación materna y esfuerzo de control emocional en niños pequeños. International Journal of Psychological Research, 6(1),30-40. ISSN: 2011-2084. Recuperado de:
  • Guerrero, R. (2018). Educación emocional y apego. Pautas prácticas para gestionar las emociones en casa y en el aula. Barcelona, España: Libros Cúpula.
  • Siegel, D., & Payne, T. (2015). Disciplina sin lágrimas: Una guía imprescindible para orientar y alimentar el desarrollo mental de tu hijo. Madrid, España: Penguin Random House.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.