How to Prevent Temper Tantrums

Creating a title for this particular blog was difficult…should I call it How to Completely Avoid Temper Tantrums (not possible) or How to Handle Temper Tantrums (why would you want to handle them if you and your child don’t have to?) or maybe How to Breathe Calmly while your Child is Writhing and Screaming on the Floor at HEB (doesn’t really roll off the tongue). But preventing seemed like the correct word choice for one of the most uncomfortable, frustrating and inevitably public acts your child will display…the dreaded temper tantrum.

So let’s get down to it. If you are the experienced parent of a child who is at least three years old, then you will know 90% of what follows (but 10% can make or break your sanity, so hopefully you will read SOMEthing you haven’t tried that will work!). For new parents, let me share the tips that I have asked our Sunrise Teachers, Sunrise parents, my sisters, my friends, online articles from experts, and my own experience as a parent to help your child experience more control and less angst!

For the new parent, here are the basics:

  • Establish routines and give warnings when they are about to change: children want to know what’s coming next
  • Give them a choice: “Do you want an apple or a banana for lunch?” Children want control of their environment, just like we do.
  • Redirect or distract them: Their attention span is short, use it to your advantage. Point out something your child likes…is that a plane flying overhead? Introduce something different.
  • Put items they are not allowed to have out of reach or sight
  • Know your child’s limit: My sister knew not to even think about taking her son to the market near his nap time.

For the experienced parent, check these out to see if there’s anything new you can try:

  • Give them a timer you are in control of: Do you need to leave in 2 minutes but you know your child will go full blown over not getting more time to play? Give your child a warning, “John, we’re leaving soon, you have 10 more minutes to play.” Then after 2 minutes, start the process to leave. They can’t tell time yet, use that to your advantage.
  • Identify their feelings out loud: “I saw how your sister got to the swing first. Does that feel frustrating?”
  • Bring toys or a book: If you are about to go on a long plane ride or just a jaunt to the market, then bring a couple small things in your purse your child will be excited to play with when they start to get bored and frustrated.
  • Offer them help: Do you see them struggling with something? Don’t do it for them, just ask if they would like you to help. Give them some control.
  • Breathing time: At Sunrise, we call time outs Breathing Time to allow the child to sit and calm down, think about what happened and then talk about it when they are ready. It’s really hard to think rationally when your brain is flooded with emotion.
  • Give positive attention: If you know that a situation is coming up that will trigger your child, start commenting what they are doing WELL so that they keep doing it. Everyone loves compliments and children especially crave attention.
  • Find a phrase! A technique Ms. Lara of the Hummingbirds classroom learned years ago is to find a phrase that she can use regularly whenever she sees that the child is about to respond to a situation with a tantrum. Some example phrases are “Uh-oh!”, “That’s a bummer,” or “This is so sad.” The phrase will be one that communicates empathy with the child’s feelings.
  • Use an older sibling to help them calm down if a tantrum is starting to unleash: “Hey Jeff, Ryan is trying to put his seat belt on, can you help him please?” or “Leah, Connor is sad, can you get him a tissue?”

But this one is the most POWERFUL! Out of all those suggestions, the one we use at Sunrise that consistently prevents the most tantrums, as Ms. Shavonda of the Chickadee classroom reminded me recently, is to tell the child to “Use your words.” The top two MAIN reasons a child has a tantrum in the first place is that they are struggling to communicate what they are feeling or are losing control of their environment. Reminding them to voice their frustrations gives them an outlet and some control of their emotions.

What you don’t know about that picture up above is that John was at the beginning of a temper tantrum but my husband, Rob, was trying to take a picture before the train took off, so I quick pulled out a sucker we had just gotten, we got a picture with John!, and off we went. Do I recommend giving your child candy to ward off an oncoming attack of overwhelming emotions? Nope. But if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have had to.

Sunrise Montessori Preschool has two locations in Round Rock. Interested in learning first hand what we can offer your child? Then book a tour on our website at or call us so you can discover why Sunrise Montessori Preschool is where YOUR family belongs!