Tantrum tornado - Part 2: What to do during a storm
Help your child work through their emotional storms and learn to manage strong emotions.
Tantrums are a very normal part of a young child’s development. Young children don’t yet have the skills and strategies to manage strong emotions, which often results in the dreaded tantrum. Tantrums are kind of like tornados—a whirling mass of emotions barreling through a small child’s life and leaving damage in its wake. When we, as parents and adults, can help children recognize the emotions that initiate a tantrum tornado, help them through the storm and help them learn to prevent future outbursts, we are giving them the tools they need to address the strong emotions that all of us face as a part of life.
During the storm
Stay calm. It is easy to respond to your child’s emotional tornado with your own storm of strong emotions, but when you become angry or overwhelmed yourself, you become your own emotional tornado. We know one storm cannot stop another. When you stay calm and present, even though your child is out of control, they will know you are there to help them as they work through their storm.
Take cover. Just like you can’t stop a tornado’s destruction by talking to it, children having a tantrum need to let all of those strong feelings out before they can listen to logic or reason. Saying things like, “It’s fine, there’s no need to cry,” or “You’re not angry, you’re fine” will not solve the problem. Accept that you need to let your child get all of their emotions out.
Find a safe space. Make sure your child is safe during their tantrum. As long as they are not hurting themselves, other people or possessions, you can give them the freedom to express their feelings. If, however, they are causing damage during their emotional storm, put your child in a safe space—you may need to physically move them to another area to do this.
Ride it out. You can’t force a storm to slow down or speed up. Similarly, when a young child is having a tantrum, let your child work through it, but not alone. You can be a calm and steady presence with your child and offer some affirmation by talking about what you see. “You are so angry, I see you.” As hard as it can be to take a step back, you just have to ride the storm out and let your child be angry, sad or hurt and wait for the storm to pass.
Helping your child manage the strong emotional winds of a tantrum is an important step in helping your young child learn to manage strong emotions and ride out their tantrum tornados. Check out the other two articles in this series to learn how you can understand the warning signs of a tantrum tornado and prevent future storms.
- Tantrum tornado - Part 1: What to do before the storm
- Tantrum tornado – Part 3: What to do after the storm
For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.
To learn about the positive impact children and families are experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2016 Impact Report. Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.