Tantrum training

The first time Ruby’s brother had a tantrum, she looked aghast and covered her ears. ‘Mum,’ she shouted,  I DON’T LIKE THAT NOISE.  STOP IT!  STOP IT!’

I knew exactly how she felt.

When a toddler or baby cries, there’s something in you that starts flashing.  High alert, sirens wailing – a burst of panic that spreads across your body. Half of you wants to run away and the other half wants to join in the screaming. Neither works.

Here’s what (sometimes) does. Instead of climbing under the table, you take a deep breath. You disengage with the heat of the tantrum, refusing to give it fuel. You pray. And then, when things have calmed a bit, you ask questions and listen. You acknowledge the strength of their feelings but you don’t let them lead you. And eventually, instead of absorbing their stress, they catch your calm.

(This is the theory.  The practice is – well, work in progress…)

It seems to me that our emotions are a bit like screaming toddlers. When they kick off, it’s tempting to drop everything and panic. To run from them, or to let them rule. Neither of these work; and like a child who’s ignored or is constantly told that they’re ‘bad’, they act up accordingly.  Sadly, I haven’t solved the problem of toddler meltdowns; but I’ve plenty of experience with feelings that ‘throw their toys out of the pram’. So how do we respond to our own emotions when they spit the dummy? Perhaps we can apply the same principles…

Thanks to all those wise friends who have shared these tips on parenting, (please keep ’em coming!)

Things to remember when parenting your emotions:

  1. You’re the grown up. They are not the boss of you.
  2. Be flexible. Sometimes a meltdown means you need to cut short that shopping trip. Cut yourself some slack. The emails or chores that can be done another day.
  3. Listen carefully to what they’re saying. Take seriously the depth of their feeling, but not necessarily the justification for it.
  4. Reassure them with the truth: your parent is here, they love you, and they promise everything will be ok.
  5. Recognise warning signs – and try to head them off early.
  6. Check the basics: are they tired/hungry/in pain?  Now, ask yourself the same questions…
  7. Pause before responding. When a toddler is having a meltdown, it’s not the time to reason with them or to get them to take action.  Similarly, don’t try and fix the world (or the situation) when you’re angry or anxious or despairing.  Remember that this will pass – and when you’re calmer, things may well look different.
  8. Try not to get angry. Your child isn’t shouting to disrupt your plans, but because something feels wrong.  In the same way, don’t beat yourself up for having emotions. You’re human! And emotions are God-given. Take them and your frustrations to God.
  9. In time, when things have calmed down, you can figure out what has triggered this meltdown. There will be things you can learn from and/or change. Ask wise friends for advice (and prayer).
  10. Have time out.  Some toys or a soothing song.  For you, a verse of Scripture, a piece of music, a phone call to a friend. (The Psalms are always a great model for managing wayward feelings!)


When my anxious inner thoughts become overwhelming, your comfort encourages me, (Psalm 94:19)


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3 thoughts on “Tantrum training

  1. Not being allowed more bacon is 100% valid reason to make That Face tho, in my opinion! (Good thing I’m Adult enough to allocate myself as much bacon as I like, (sometimes). And thankfully I’m (usually) sensible enough to know what extra-but-not-too-much bacon looks like! … most of the time)

    I remember you writing a similar post on emotions (head/heart) as toddlers before, and treating them the right way in light of that – MINE STILL IS TODDLER-Y (sometimes, or more than sometimes) AND I’M NOT RUBY (or her brother) anymore, yikes!!!

    I need sooth-y things for myself too, hahaha – and sometimes that might look like any or all of these things, among others – an escape into a few pages of a novel, organizing my week in my planner, … writing midnight messages to Aunt Agony Emma (erm. Only half kidding on the last part ??????)

    Thank you for being an older adult Christian friend – I say this like a broken record (hahahaha ?) only cos it’s true, and I could never emphasize this enough. Thank you for always praying alongside in the smallest (and sometimes not-so-small) things, for showing me what it looks like to be vulnerable but not whiny (??), to be firm in viewpoint but gentle in words, … etc. Thanks for this brilliant post (and I still think it’s ok to be tantrummy for a tiny while due to the lack of bacon :p) xxx

  2. Where did you come from? How old are you? You sound like a wonderful great grandmother, but you seem (from some details in posts) that you are a young mother. WOW! What wisdom you have and will give your children. I am a grandmother, and I am blessed and needful of your wisdom.
    Thank you

  3. Hi Carolyn – I’m a middle-aged mum! And very far from being wise – but blessed with friends who have passed their experience on.

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