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A Psychologist's One Tip To Nix Tantrums, From Screaming Toddlers To Brooding Teens

miling mother and her little daughter drawing pictures together at their coffee table with dad relaxing on the living room sofa
Image by Ivan Gener / Stocksy
November 20, 2020

Dealing with a temper tantrum is, by no means, a walk in the park. That's why clinical psychologist and New York Times bestselling author Shefali Tsabary, Ph.D., says you shouldn't "deal" with them at all. Rather, "You just settle down," she shares on the mindbodygreen podcast. Seems suspect—shouldn't your screaming child be the one to settle?—but according to Tsabary, the key to stopping a temper tantrum in its tracks is to actually take a parental "timeout." Remove yourself from the situation (be it physically or mentally), and the tantrum should cease, every time. 

Here's exactly how it works and how to tailor the trick to any age.

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How a parental "timeout" helps cool down tantrums. 

Let's chat about younger children first—say, toddlers. You can't exactly leave them alone, but you can take a timeout in your own mind. "You just kind of quiet down," says Tsabary. "Tell them, 'Mommy's really tired right now,' and just go into stillness. And the [temper tantrum] will eventually die down because [your child's] not getting the feedback they were wanting." Whereas if you raise your voice to meet your child's screams, you'll likely be met with even more wails. 

Your child can transform their energy in a snap, says Tsabary, and they typically mirror your own. So get creative with it: "Lie down and tell the kid, 'Oh, my stomach is hurting right now. Can you be my nurse?' And your kid will change," Tsabary notes. "That's what's so great about young kids."  

Now, onto the brooding teens. With older kids, you can take more of a physical "timeout." If you can leave them alone, remove yourself from the situation and let them know you're giving them their space. "I say to my kid all the time, 'Time for me to go on a walk,' "Time for me to go upstairs,' or 'Time for me to let you have your space,'" Tsabary explains. 

Again, the worst thing you can do is match their energy. If, say, your teen storms off to their room and slams the door, don't barge into the "lion's den," as Tsabary calls it. When your consciousness matches their level, you won't be able to change much. Rather, "I just take it as my timeout, my time to exit." 

The takeaway. 

Tantrums don't always mean screaming and carrying on—for older kids and teens, sometimes it's a slam of the door or talking back. No matter the type of tantrum, creating space for stillness is key. Rather than matching their energy and becoming heated, try to take a parental "timeout," be it physical or mental. According to Tsabary, it's a better call in the long run.

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