Tantrum tornado – Part 3: What to do after the storm

Help your child work through their emotional storms and learn to manage strong emotions.

Tantrum tornado – Part 3: What to do after the storm

Tantrums are a very normal part of a young child’s development. Young children don’t yet have the skills and strategies to manage strong emotions, which often results in the dreaded tantrum. Tantrums are kind of like tornados—a whirling mass of emotions barreling through a small child’s life and leaving damage in its wake. When we, as parents and adults, can help children recognize the emotions that initiate a tantrum tornado, help them through the storm and help them learn to prevent future outbursts, we are giving them the tools they need to address the strong emotions that all of us face as a part of life.

After the storm

Assess the damage. After your child’s emotional tornado has passed and they have managed to get back to a calm state of mind, it’s important to assess the damage. Check in with your little one to see how they are doing. You can say, “Wow! You were really upset (or angry, or sad, etc.). You yelled and cried and stomped your feet, you were so mad!” Let your child openly express how they are feeling or what they were feeling before their tantrum. They may need your help to identify some of the emotions or motivations behind their behavior.

Rebuild and repair. Talk to your child about the feelings that precipitated their tantrum tornado. Try to pinpoint why they lost control and talk about it with them. “You were so angry because you wanted to try to put your shoes on all by yourself, but I did it for you.”

Talk about ways they can work through those feelings before it turns into a tantrum tornado. “Next time, you can say, ‘Daddy, I want to do it myself.’”

This is also when you can address any misbehaviors that occurred during the tantrum. “It’s OK to be angry, but it is not OK to throw things at Daddy. When you are mad, you can say ‘I’m so mad, Daddy!’”

Work to prevent future damage. Notice your child’s warning signs and help them recognize, acknowledge and work through those big feelings before they turn into a storm. You can say, “Next time, when you feel very frustrated, let’s think about some things you can do. You can take three deep, belly breaths, tell someone you trust or take a break.”

Preventing future storms

Be on tantrum watch. Tantrums are possible and expected, so provide your child with lots of opportunities to express their emotions. Give them some control over their own lives, like picking what color shirt to wear or what to have for snack, and help them learn how to problem-solve in an effort to prevent some of these storms.

Provide tantrum warnings. When you start to notice your child is showing some tantrum warning signs, don’t hesitate to act. Talk about what you are seeing with your child. “I see your face is getting red. You look like you are getting angry. When you are angry, you can use your words to tell me how you feel.”

You will not always be able to prevent a tantrum tornado, but you can help your child work through their stormy feelings and come out the other side knowing they can trust you to be there for them, and empowered to express their feelings with words. Tornados and tantrums are unpleasant, but expected parts of life. You can help your child work through their emotional storms by being alert, prepared and keeping a watch out for stormy weather.

Check out the other two articles of this series to learn how you can understand the warning signs of a tantrum tornado and how to stay safe during a storm.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

To learn about the positive impact children and families are experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2016 Impact Report. Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2015, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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