Marci Stiles

By Lora Kingsley, LPC-Intern, Play Therapist

Temper tantrums are a normal, healthy behavior in children ages 1-3 who are beginning to struggle with frustration but don’t have the language to express this powerful emotion.

Follow these tips to help your child manage their emotions:

Keep calm — Temper tantrums aren't just upsetting for the child. Most parents get pushed over the edge by their child’s meltdown, especially if it happens in public or when you’re trying to rush out the door. This is the time to take a deep breath and stay as calm as possible. Your child can’t calm down if you aren't calm — and a parent’s frustration will only exacerbate the situation.

Reflect your child’s feelings — Try to identify the emotion your child is feeling. Is he angry? Frustrated? Sad? Then, reflect it back. “I know you are very angry right now…” Reflecting emotion helps your child learn to manage their own difficult feelings. Research has shown that labeling your child’s emotions teaches them mindfulness, which activates the prefrontal lobe area of the brain, responsible for regulating emotions. 

Assess the situation — Try to figure out why you’re child is having a tantrum. Is he or she tired? Hungry? Perhaps you tried to squeeze in a trip to the grocery store before nap or snack time. If your child is prone to temper tantrums, it is all the more important to have a schedule and stick to it. After all, don’t you get cranky when you’re hungry or tired? If this is the case, swallow your pride, forget your shopping trip and take your kid home for a nap or a snack. 

Give alternative choices — It is very common for young children to throw temper tantrums when they've been denied something that they want. It can be very upsetting for a parent whose child is pitching a major fit because they can’t have the sugary cereal with the cartoon character on the box. Try to think of it from your child’s perspective. They are beginning to develop a sense of autonomy, but all they hear all day is “No! Don’t touch! You can’t have that!” Give your child a sense of control over their environment by giving them a choice of items that are acceptable to you. For example, “We are not buying Sugar Crunchies today, but you can choose Healthy-O’s or Wheatie Flakes.” It is likely that your child will be so enchanted by the idea of being given options that they will forget all about their first choice.

Don’t reinforce bad behavior — Sometimes children throw temper tantrums because they want your attention. Even negative attention can reinforce this behavior. If your kid figures out that she can get your goat by kicking and screaming, she’s got you right where she wants you. Resist the urge and don’t give in. If you’re in a public place, tell your child you will give them a minute to calm themselves down. Take a few steps away and look in another direction (while watching out of the corner of your eye). It is likely that he will figure out that his behavior isn't working and give up. Another option is to take your child outside and give him space to calm down. At home, have your child sit in a “calm down” area or in their room until they have calmed themselves down. Remember to give your child praise and attention when they have calmed down. This is the behavior you want to reinforce.

Get help — If your child is having frequent temper tantrums that are disruptive to the family, or your child is over the age of 3 and still having whopper tantrums, it may be time to ask for help. A play therapist can help your child learn to regulate her emotions and teach you skills to reinforce therapy at home. If your child has experienced a death of a loved one or a significant change, such as divorce, he may be “acting out” troubling emotions by throwing tantrums. Play therapy can help your child deal with grief and loss in a healthy way.

Join us for a Play Therapy Open House on Friday, June 28 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Positive Outlook Counseling to meet our play therapist, tour the playroom and learn about how play therapy can help your child with emotional, social or behavioral difficulties. Call Lora Kingsley at 972-733-3988 with questions or to schedule a free Q&A session. 

Positive Outlook Counseling
Marci B. Stiles, MA, LPC-S, NBCC

16610 North Dallas Parkway, Ste. 2100
Dallas, Texas 75248


Positive Outlook Counseling services range from individual counseling to family therapy to marriage counseling services. Marci Stiles specializes in individual, family, marriage and troubled teen therapy.

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