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Updated: Dec 24, 2021

How to turn the tantrum into a teachable moment

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If you've already read this post here about what to do to lessen your child's stress after your cancer diagnosis, you have already learned several different avenues to help your child cope.

But what about the moments where they make it exceptionally hard to keep your wits? You know the times where they are having a tantrum of a lifetime and you just want to run away from home? Yeah, those times suck. But here are some steps to actually use those tantrums as learning lessons. Which in turn will lead to less occurrences as well as shortened outbursts.

Before I give you the 10 Steps to Taming Tantrums, let me tell you a little about me and how I gathered this knowledge. I was a teacher for many years to high-risk children at a low-income preschool. I've been a first hand witness to children exposed to dire circumstances including but not limited to abuse, domestic violence, and neglect. I've seen them struggle for coping mechanisms while lashing out at the one's closest to them.

I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, I'm merely explaining this in order to prove that the method below really works.

On one particular year, I was pulled out of my well behaved classroom to teach the "nightmare" classroom several other seasoned teachers had already tried to reign in. By the grace of God above, my team and I managed to conquer that group of 20 little screaming tornados and turned them into productive, self-aware, little helpers.

And here are the strategies used:

1. Stay calm and friendly

Seeing your frustration will escalate the problem and emotions. Yes, this is hard to do when they are embarrassing you in public or about to throw something. But the more emotions you show, the more they will show. If you get angry when they get upset, that shows them that their emotions are something bad, which is not the case. Emotions are normal, how they handle the emotions might be considered "not ideal" but that's where we can teach them better coping mechanisms.

2. Act quickly, isolate the issue, and ignore the haters

When you see the situation escalating, quickly get the child to a safe place where they can throw the fit. If there is nothing you can do and the tantrum happens in public, remember, no one's child acts perfect all the time. You're not alone, parenting is hard, stick to your guns.

3. Stay firm

Whatever you do, do not bribe the child with a reward for having a tantrum just to save face. It sends the signal that if they throw a fit, they get whatever they want. A big no-no. Don't give in just because you want the tantrum to end quickly. Think long haul here. The lessons they learn now, won't have to be learned later on a larger scale.

4. Give them time and space to calm down

Give them time and space to calm down. Designate a spot in your house as the "calm down" area. Make it boring to the child. They don't get to sit in front of the TV nor do they get toys. The area should be within eye sight, but not directly in front of you. Let them cry. Let them rant. Let them do whatever they want in that designated area until they calm down. It's important to for them let the emotions out, but in a safe way where they won't get hurt or hurt others.

5. Pretend to ignore them

Pretend to ignore the tantrum, while secretly making sure they're safe. Yep, I said to ignore it. Don't condone bad behavior by giving them your attention. A lot of times the child is searching for attention and will go to any lengths to get it...even if it's not lovey-dovey cuddling attention, it's still attention. They will get the attention they need after they calm down, but not during the tantrum. By ignoring the outburst, it will also enable the child to learn to self-soothe.

6. Talk with a lesson in mind

After the child has calmed down, talk politely to them with one thing in mind "what lesson can they learn?" The lesson depends on what the situation is, but most of the time it's to help them discover more about their feelings in order to better understand themselves, empathy for other's feelings, or to find a better coping mechanism for next time. If you're able to hit all three lessons in one tantrum you can pat yourself on the back and call yourself a Tantrum Training Pro.

7. Ask open-ended guided questions

Here's what that means:

  • Open ended questions: are ones that typically start with "why" or "how" to get an answer that requires thought. Avoid the questions that result with a "yes" or "no" answer. Those don't take much self reflection.

  • Guided questions: are ones that are leading to a desired result (your result is to teach them that lesson we just talked about). These lead to an answer yet don't give an answer.

  • Open-ended-guided question examples are a combination of both.

Here are some examples: "What happened that made you upset?" "Why did it make you upset?" "How did it make you feel when she threw the doll at you?" "Why do you think she did that?" "How do you think she feels when you threw the block at her?" "What should you have done?" "What can you do next time if someone throws something at you?" "What would you want someone to else to do?"

This is teaching coping mechanisms, problem solving, and maybe even teaching empathy if they were guided to see someone else's side of the story and how their actions affected others. You'll have to guide them, but let them express their feelings, validate the feelings, and help them problem solve a better solution.

8. End with positivity

End the lesson with a friendly hug and move along with your day as you normally would. Things go back to normal.

9. If they aren't cooperating...

If they aren't cooperating in talking with you, I suggest giving them more time in the calm down area until they are ready. It's their playtime they are messing with. If you are needing to speed things up a bit you can try to point out that they are missing out on something extra fun, to give a little incentive, but whatever you do don't cut it short and miss the point. What long term lesson would they learn if they were taught they didn't have to cooperate? (psst...that is an example of an open-ended guided question folks).

10. Be consistent

The more you stick to your guns and the method above, the easier it will become. Trust me, every year, the first few weeks of teaching school was filled with many trips to the beanbag corner. But as the year went by the children learned the process of what was expected from them, what was allowed, and what did not work to get their way. By the end of the year, the beanbag corner was used very little if at all. This works. You just have to stick to it.

Do you have any additional suggestions or tips for others?

Or maybe a nightmare story to help others feel like they aren't the only ones struggling?

Please do share below.


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Hi! I'm Jessica

I'm a Stage IV cancer survivor, author, and creative business owner, on a mission to help those who are struggling with the devastation of a cancer diagnosis...



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