4 Strategies to Stop Tantrums Before They Start

Little boy in super man shirt throwing a tantrum on the grass

It’s 5 PM. You’re standing in line in the middle of a crowded grocery store when you hear it: “Mommy, can I get a candy bar?” 

You look down at your four-year-old son standing beside the cart, his eyes zoned in on the candy display next to you. You know it’s much too close to dinner time for him to be eating candy.

“No, sweetie,” you say. “Not today.”

You watch as your son’s face contorts in displeasure; his lip pouts out and her eyes widen.

“But I want one!” he demands, stomping his foot on the ground.

Unfortunately, you’ve been here before—many times—and know what’s coming. In a panic, you look ahead at the slowly moving line. Stuck, you feel you have no choice but to brace for impact and wait for it to start.

The tantrum.

In all my years as a parenting educator, I’ve yet to meet a parent who hasn’t experienced this exact situation, or one very similar to it. Tantrums—like sleepless nights and picky eating—are one of those parenting predicaments it seems no one is immune to. 

Fortunately, there is hope! Of course, there are strategies you can use to stop tantrums in their tracks. BUT what if I told you there are tools you could be using right now to prevent tantrums from happening at all? 

It may seem impossible, but I promise, it is absolutely within your reach.

Stopping Tantrums Before They Start

Sure, you can walk on eggshells all the time, hoping to avoid triggering an outburst. 

Or, you can never leave the house. But, really, what kind of life is that?

Why not be proactive and stop tantrums before they start? After all, you know your child better than anyone else; what makes him tick and what sets him off. 

By using any one of these four strategies, you can take charge and think ahead, preventing tantrums from brewing before they ever have a chance to start. As an added bonus, you’ll be amazed at how these simple strategies will bring out the best in your child’s behavior at other times as well.

Strategy #1: Mind, Body, and Soul Time (MBST)

Mind, Body, and Soul Time (MBST) is one of the most powerful and beneficial tools in the Positive Parenting Solutions Toolbox for raising well-behaved kids. 

Mind, Body and Soul Time is spending 10-15 intentional minutes each day, one-on-one with your child, doing whatever your child wants to do. Within 2 or 3 days of using this power-packed tool you’ll begin to see magnificent changes in his behavior!

Why? Because Mind, Body and Soul Time—as short as it may seem—does wonders for filling your child’s attention bucket. It strengthens emotional connection, and reminds him that nothing is more important than him during your special time together. Almost magically, it seems, attention-seeking behaviors and tantrums are reduced.

Here’s how Mind, Body and Soul Time works … every day, let your child choose the special activity they would like to do with just you during that 10 or 15 minutes. Then do it! Play with Legos, read a book, bake a cake, go for a bike ride. Let him make all of the decisions. 

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that couldn’t be more true here. I promise, just 10 minutes of your time each day will be enough to fill your child’s need for attention and cut down on the number of tantrums you see later on.

But don’t forget to keep yourself emotionally available. That means ditch your smartphone, computer, and mental to-do list—basically, anything that would keep you from being fully present in the moment with your child. You just sit back, enjoy your time, and reap the rewards.

Note: Concerned about how to fit Mind, Body and Soul Time into your already too-busy day? For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, review Session 1 to learn the ins and outs of MBST and also see the advanced module, “The Busy Parent’s Guide to Mind, Body, and Soul Time.” 

We have the power to control our child's environment

Strategy #2: Control the Environment

It’s 100° outside. Your son missed his nap and his snack was left sitting at home on the kitchen table. He’s cranky, hot, and hungry.

It’s the perfect storm.

If you’re like me, there’s a good chance you’ve been here before. You know, one of those days where everything aligned (or misaligned) to lay the groundwork for the mother of all tantrums to rear her ugly head?

So many times we feel like these moments sneak up on us, only to realize later on we actually could have changed the outcome by doing a few small things differently from the very beginning.

As parents, we have the power to control our child’s environment—to remove the triggers that can cause a perfectly good day to go sideways. And, in doing so, we can have a greater influence on their attitude and behavior throughout the day.

For instance, if you know your son absolutely needs his afternoon nap, make sure not to schedule anything during naptime that would prevent him from getting the sleep his body craves.

Likewise, if you know your daughter gets cranky when hungry and is more inclined to outbursts, check and make sure you have a healthy snack on hand before you leave the house for the day.

Each morning, take a moment to think about and plan out your day. Know where you and your children are going, what you will be doing, and plan accordingly. By taking the time to control the environment, you’ll be able to avoid many tantrum-inducing situations. 

Just rememberlife happens! Sometimes naps are missed and meals are skipped and that is perfectly okay. When things go a bit astray, just make sure to manage your expectations and focus on implementing the next strategy.

Strategy #3: Give Clear Expectations 

This won’t come as a shock to you, but children are not mind readers. And the ability to read subtle cues? Forget about it.

If you truly want your kids to do as you ask, lay out your expectations and make sure they are clear and concise.

Say, for instance, you’re taking your son to a birthday party for one of the kids in his preschool class. You know your son is friendly and usually gets along fairly well with others, but he also has a tendency to get overwhelmed when a lot of other kids are around. You want him to enjoy the birthday party, but you also want to avoid any potential meltdowns that may ruin the fun for everyone.

The car ride to the party is a wonderful time to reveal in advance your expectations for his behavior. Not only is it quiet and away from any distractions, but it provides the perfect opportunity for you to grab your son’s attention and hold onto it. 

Let him know what he can expect from the party and also how you expect him to behave. Additionally, make sure you inform him of any consequences that will occur if he doesn’t.

Once you’ve made your expectations clearly known, the ball is in his court. Could he still end up losing control and falling into that dreaded tantrum territory? Yes. But you can rest a little easier knowing you took the right preventative steps to help stop a tantrum that may have been in the works. 

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Strategy #4: Provide Positive Power

Children thrive on the power that comes from being independent and having some age-appropriate control over their own lives.

If kids are not given legitimate opportunities to exert positive power, they may seek power in negative ways. This is where backtalk, button pushing, and, of course, tantrums come into play.

To avoid these negative power struggles, the best thing you can do is provide your child with a daily dose of positive power

Empower your child by giving her the freedom to make her own positive choices throughout the day. Try letting your daughter pick out her outfit for that day or ask her what she would like for breakfast that morning.

Worried you’re casting too wide a net with her choices? Not to worry. Simply pick two options you already approve of BUT let the final decision be hers.

“Would you rather have the pink cup or the purple cup?” 

“Would you like to ride your bike to the park or the library?”

Now, obviously, you don’t want to let your daughter decide if she wants to take her medicine or brush her teeth—those are non-negotiables. But, there are plenty of opportunities throughout the day for her to exert power and independence in positive ways.

Once her need for positive power is met, you’ll find that any negative behavior, such as tantrums, will be less likely to occur later on.

Final Thoughts

There’s no denying it. Tantrums happen. And when they do, it feels like nothing could be more frustrating, terrifying, and embarrassing in that moment.

Hopefully, now you can see there is hope. Not just in ending tantrums but avoiding them in the first place.

These four simple and effective strategies are yours for the using. 

And for more Positive Parenting Solutions strategies for tantrums and many other discipline dilemmas, check out our Course Tour to see if our online course is a good fit for you.

Want to dip your toes in the water before diving in? I’d love for you to JOIN ME FOR A FREE ONLINE CLASS where I’ll teach you how to get your kids to listen—no nagging, yelling, or reminding required.

Parenting is a tough journey. We’d love to walk by your side and support you every step of the way.

Title Image: Kendall Clark / Shutterstock https://www.shutterstock.com/photos

About the Author

Amy McCready
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.