Even the most well-behaved kid in the world is going to throw some pretty epic tantrums once in a while. It usually doesn’t take much to set them off— it could be hunger, sleepiness, boredom, or simply being overwhelmed by things going on around them. Once the meltdown starts, it can be hard to get them calm again. But there are quite a few things you should never do to get a child to stop throwing a tantrum, because they could backfire in a big way.
Kids of any age are capable of throwing a tantrum (and adults are too, for that matter). But the toughest years for bad behavior seem to be from about 18 months to 4 years, according to CNN. During that time frame, their developing brains simply aren’t equipped to handle all their different emotions, or to really understand reason and logic. If your toddler or preschooler has been known to make a scene in the middle of the grocery store or embarrass you in front of extended family, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s not your parenting — it really is just a phase.
You can’t completely prevent meltdowns; you can only try to respond to them in the most productive way possible. Here are seven things you should avoid doing at all costs during a tantrum, or risk making them worse.
1Don't Lose Your Cool
As frustrating as it is to deal with a child who’s freaking out, it’s important to keep calm. According to Baby Center, blowing up at your kid during a tantrum is probably only going to feed their negative energy and make their behavior worse. That’s obviously the exact opposite of what you want, so take a deep breath and count to ten to keep cool.
2Don't Try To Reason Mid Meltdown
Your instinct might be to calmly reason with your child to get to the root of the problem, but you can’t do that in the middle of a tantrum. "During a tantrum, your child is literally out of his mind. His emotions take over — overriding the frontal cortex of the brain, the area that makes decisions and judgments," Jay Hoecker, MD, a Rochester, Minnesota, pediatrician tells Parents. "That's why reasoning doesn't help — the reasoning part of his brain isn't working."
Instead making it better, your reasoning will probably just frustrate your child more and make the meltdown even worse.
3Don't Let Them Push You Away
No matter how hard your child seems to be pushing you away, sometimes the best thing to do is to hold them tight during a tantrum, advised Dr. William Sears in Parenting. Why? This lets your child know that you’re there for her, and that may help her regain her composure faster. Plus, Dr. Sears adds, later in life, when your kid is past the tantrum stage, her "memories of calm during the stormy behavior will prove valuable."
4Don't Ask Questions
You might be desperate to understand what’s causing your little one to have a meltdown, but trying to ask questions in the middle of a tantrum is a useless endeavor, as James A. Green, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Connecticut, explained to Parents. "A 2-year-old often doesn't have the cognitive resources and the language to express what he's feeling," he said. They’re already frustrated and overwhelmed, and firing questions at them can only make it worse.
Hitting or spanking your child during a tantrum isn’t a good idea, according to Kids Health. Lashing out and spanking or hitting them might only make them think that it’s OK for them to do the same. Instead, you should aim to be a model of self control.
6Don't Make Empty Threats
Your child may not listen to you when they’re kicking and screaming, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hear you. That’s why it’s important not to make empty threats, Dr. Hansa Bhargava, a pediatrician at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, told CNN. "Toddlers and preschoolers can easily pick up the difference between an 'empty threat' and actual punishment," Bhargava said. "We really love our children, and we want what's best for them, but it's really important to follow through (on punishment)."
If you warn them that you’re going to take away a toy unless they behave, you need to follow through — otherwise they won’t take you seriously.
7Don't Give In
While it can obviously be tempting to end a meltdown by any means possible, giving in to your child’s tantrum is only going to create more problems, according to What To Expect. Giving in only teaches them that tantrums are a good way to get what they want— and you might find yourself dealing with even more tantrums in the future.