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Help! My Child is Having a Tantrum. What do I do?

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

If you are like many parents, you have experienced moments when your child has what looks like a total meltdown, legs, and arms akimbo. I am raising my own hand here!

Maybe you are at a store, maybe you said no to a dessert, maybe your child wants something that someone else has, or maybe there is seemingly no reason you can tell at all.

Whatever the reason, it takes time for children to develop their own regulation skills, and so we must support them by lending them some of ours (co-regulation). A child who is having a meltdown (tantrum) is telling us, “I need help."

Over the years there have been many thoughts about how best to support children during times like these. But the research is clear, we must be able to stop, listen, and support our children.

By investing time into our children’s emotional well being now, we show our children how to grow resilience, empathy, emotional intelligence, and self regulation for their future.

We recommend trying the I.N.V.E.S.T Method the next time your child is having a difficult time.

INVEST METHOD © (Created by Aubrey Kliaman M.A. CDS & Robyn Kures LMFT)

When a child is emotionally flooded, they are asking us for support. Try these steps:

Identify it - Identify the feeling that you see your child emoting: "I can see that you are: Sad, upset, frustrated, etc."

Narrate it - Describe the experience your child had leading up to the meltdown.

State the facts of what happened and restate the feeling they are having. “You really wanted the swing that Johnny is using, and that feels really upsetting to you right now.”

Validate it - Validate the feeling. "It’s okay to feel upset, sad, frustrated, etc."

Empathize with it. "I understand." When you can see that your child has calmed down, we can now begin to support making a plan to help.

Support it - Ask what they need: "What can I do to help?" Don’t try and fix it. Don’t promise or guarantee an outcome. Try and support your child in coming up with their own solution. It may not be the one you would have thought of, but that’s okay. This gives children a chance to try and solve their own conflicts with your support (building resilience). If your child is having difficulty coming up with a solution, offer a suggestion. “Maybe we can ask Johnny to let us know when he is done using the swing so you can have a turn.”

Talk about it. Later in the day, or perhaps before bedtime, talk about what happened again from beginning to end. “Remember this morning when you really wanted the swing that Johnny was using? You felt so sad about that. You cried, and felt so frustrated. When you felt less sad and less frustrated, you came up with a plan to have a turn when Johnny was done. You walked over to him and asked him to let you know when he was done and he said yes. Then you had a turn on the swing. It must have felt really great to make a plan and get a turn.”


State what you see, validate the feeling, and empathize. Allow the feelings to flow. Then offer support (what could we do/it looks like you would like your toy back and give them options for things they can say). Talk about it again later in the day, over dinner, or before bed.

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