3 Questions I Ask During My Child’s Tantrum

Tantrums are an inevitable part of toddlerdom. Americans call it the ‘Terrible Twos’ or the ‘Terrible Threes’ if you’re really unlucky, but the Danish call it The Boundary Stage“. The Danish have their own way of parenting and living slowly in general. I haven’t read it all the way through yet but it’s on my summer reading list: The Danish Way.

There’s no secret that my second child is my tantrum queen. She’ll meltdown over a drop of milk on the table or a sock that doesn’t fit just right. But I’ve noticed, that sometimes, the severity of the tantrum differs based on circumstances outside of her current predicament.

Some questions I ask myself when our little’s are having a meltdown:

What kind of tantrum am I dealing with right now?

It’s important to recognize the type of tantrum. There’s a significant difference between the kicking, screaming, throwing type of tantrum and the huffing and puffing because things are just not working out well. I see 3 different type of tantrums any given day:

  1. Defiance tantrum: this is basically what the Danish call, ‘The Boundary Stage’. She is pushing a boundary to see how far she can get. It’s really important I set strong boundaries for these type of tantrums and never give in for that kind of behavior…all without yelling. Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life! (For instance, the time I waited 15 minutes for my 3-year-old to get off the floor in the Lowe’s exit because I couldn’t carry her baby doll. The looks of passersby were Instagram-worthy).
  2. Frustration tantrum: Thoughts of my 3-year-old, Charlotte, “This baby doll won’t sit perfectly in this stroller, so I’ll throw the whole darn thing across a room.”  It’s important I recognize her frustration and help her work through it. Easier said than done, but It. Must. Be. Done. Life is frustrating, adulting especially, but we have ways of working it out and I need to teach my kids appropriate ways of working through their frustrations too because throwing her desk across the room probably won’t go over well in the corporate world.
  3. Life is Over Tantrum: This tantrum is completely illogical, and sometimes violent, it stems from something much deeper than the current problem. I need to ask myself follow-up questions if we get to this point in a tantrum! See below…

What happened today or yesterday?

My kids are pretty predictable. I know they can’t handle a 6 a.m – 6 p.m., full day, packed with activities, no matter how much fun they have. Even for my quiet, first born, long days usually end in tears or stair stomping. If they have had one of these days, I try to recognize how tired they are and not even indulge in an argument or tantrum. We call it a day and put them to bed with as little fuss as possible. This usually looks like a quick teeth brush (if possible) and any calming bedtime routine that will end this crazy, forsaken day. Lots of times, my girls want to read books to calm them before bed. Even if it’s 11 p.m. we read them the books if it will get them to sleep in the calmest way possible.

What Can I Do Right Now to Diffuse This?

Sometimes, we have the perfect storm. We are out late, we are staying in a hotel, lots of people are around or we staying at a friend’s house and all ‘toddler-hell’ breaks loose. First things first, we remove them from all forms of stimulation. I usually take my older daughter for a walk away from everyone, or if it’s late, to a room (or hallway) where just her and I can sit and either talk or read. I find nothing rude about this, even at a friend’s house. It’s important to acknowledge their feelings (attitude or otherwise) and remove them from the offending situation. This tactic has always worked and always will, but a word of caution, there are times we’ve had to literally drag our kids out of a mess, kicking and screaming.

Once upon a time, when my daughter (who I shall not name), attempted to hit my husband in the face, repeatedly, while he was removing her from a tantrum in the post exchange. We’ve all been there, can I get an Amen? The point is, she was removed, we went somewhere quiet where she could either finish her tantrum, or calm down, or decide if it was time to go home because it’s obviously been too hectic of a day.

Word to the sane: I’m not perfect, these are just the notes I write myself to remember to follow the right steps when I’m dealing with a breakdown. I’ve screamed and yelled and many other things I’m not proud of. We are all just trying to do the right thing but don’t get down on yourself if you slip up because you have feelings and limits too. Remember, apologizing, especially to your children teaches them it’s okay to make mistakes but that we must own our actions and words.

I hope these questions can help you, the next time your in the middle of meltdown city. Are there any questions or tactics you use during tantrums?

The Overwhelmed Family

The photo above was on a train ride from Vicenza to Roma. I’d like to say how lovely the trip was, but it wasn’t, we were way overwhelmed and under prepared.


Life isn’t so simple, I’m not sure it’s been simple since the industrial revolution, and today’s technologies make it increasingly more difficult to reconnect and slow down within our family.

Signs Your Family is Overwhelmed:

  1. Mom, Dad, and kids are easy to snap during the simplest tasks.
  2. Kids come home and immediately start a fight with you or each other.
  3. The look of disgust or anguish can be seen on their little faces the moment they get into the car.
  4. Tears come quickly at the slightest hint of the word ‘no’ or ‘time to go home’.

For some of these, we think that this is always normal, or this is just how kids are and how we are. However, this really can’t be the norm. Living this way every day or even weekly isn’t healthy and doesn’t need to be the case.

I’ve recommended it before, but I seriously can’t recommend it enough: Simplicity Parenting by Kim Payne. The signs above are what he calls a Soul Fever, and it can be reduced or eliminated if we take steps to slow down our family.

Recognizing these Soul Fevers is the most important step. My husband and I recently came home one night with our two daughters, completely melting down from leaving an art show. They had school all day, a playdate after school, a quick dinner then an art show, until 8 p.m. Although this doesn’t seem so bad, our girls just couldn’t handle it. The amount of attitude and tears was unbearable leaving the show. After some embarrassing yelling and prompting, my hubby and I took a seat on the couch (with kids still breaking down in the background) and recalled that this was our fault. We know their limits, we’ve done this before and recognized that they can’t handle long days and nights, especially on school nights. If we knew they would have to go to the art show we should have said no to the afterschool playdate and left the show earlier than we did. A small failure that we paid dearly for.

In the past we’ve implemented the one activity per day rule; we don’t plan more than one big activity per day, even on weekends. This worked out fabulously for us in the past, when they were really little, and we thought since they were getting older they could handle a bit more now. Well, we were wrong! We are back to our standard one activity a day and life is much easier. We say no to a lot of invitations since we know they just will not end well. Truthfully, it makes us more relaxed parents. We aren’t carting them all over God’s Creation, trying to fill every last second with something fun. There are times when we feel guilty that they will miss out on a rewarding and exciting experience, but nothing is rewarding if it calls for a tantrum at the end.

Tantrums do not have to be normal.

Every child is different, get to know yours really well and you’ll be able to tell why they tantrum. My oldest tantrums when she hasn’t had enough downtime and sleep. My youngest tantrums when she hasn’t had enough one-on-one attention (and sleep). We all ‘tantrum’ we don’t get enough sleep, Amen!

What does your family do to avoid the Soul Fever? Do you have family rules to help keep a calm and relaxed household?

Some of our rules:

  1. One activity/sport per season, per kid.
  2. One activity per day.
  3. One down day every weekend, almost like a Sabbath.
  4. Reward chart for good behavior during required activities (teeth brushing, bedtime, getting ready for school).
  5. Checking with our spouse before we say ‘yes’ to anything.
  6. No friend sleepovers (again the sleep factor)!
  7. No playdates on school nights (this one I’ve tried over and over again, but sadly she just can’t handle it).

Good Change, Bad Change, It’s All the Same

Photo Credit: Joe Leap

Have you ever wondered why you felt so drained even though you’ve accomplished something amazing? Maybe you’re supposed to feel elated about a career move but then suddenly you’re exhausted just thinking about it. If you express those feelings you’ll be seen as unhappy and ungrateful. It’s okay, there is nothing wrong with you, your body is just responding to stress, it’s just good stress. However, your body responds to those changes, roughly, in the same way as negative change. We go through similar hormonal responses.

Change can be good, in moderation, at the right time in your life.

If you’ve never heard of the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale Test, I recommend you take it. You should retake this test anytime you feel unexplainably stressed, you don’t know why you keep getting sick or have some unexplained health issues. Don’t forget to add things that you can recognize as stress that may not be listed or may not be as straight forward. For instance, if you’ve just graduated college make sure to add ‘end of college‘ and ‘outstanding personal achievement‘. If you’re moving back in with your parents add ‘moving‘ and ‘change in family obligations‘ as well. Thus graduating from college is incredibly stressful, even though it’s an entirely wonderful achievement.

All change is stress to your mind and body!

If you’d like to do some further research head on over to the CDC website to do an experiment on how you personally cope with stress: (https://www.cdc.gov/bam/teachers/documents/stress_body_mind.pdf).

Just know that all change is stress to your mind and body. Just got a promotion? Great, check the stress box. Just had a big disagreement with your in-laws? Sorry about that, but again, check the stress box.

So what do we do about about all this stress? Since it’s inevitable and life happens after all. Learn to recognize the things you can control and things you can’t. If you’ve just lost an important family member, now is not the time to take on optional work. MindTools states, “While this is clearly easier said than done, you can usually avoid moving house, for example, close to when you retire, or when one of your children goes off to college; you can learn conflict resolution skills to minimize conflict with other people; you can avoid taking on new obligations or engaging with new programs of study; and you can take things easy, and look after yourself.” 

Looking after yourself receives a post all on it’s own, but for now find one thing you do just for yourself (that doesn’t include internet surfing or television watching). Schedule time for this, by writing it on the calendar. Do this regularly and more often during noticeably high stress times. It’s okay not to do it all now. That’s the whole point of slowing down. There is a time in life for everything, but the time for everything is not right now.

Meditation also deserves a note here. I am in no way affiliated with 10% Happier but I’ve used their first seven guided meditations and I can happily recommend it.

I’m going to coin the term, Change Seeker, a person constantly in need of change to feel fulfilled.

Personal aside: the military has made me a Change Seeker. I look for change everywhere, I constantly rearrange my furniture, I’m always looking forward to the next place to move or new things to get involved in (or new degrees to get). But I can recognize that I’m, pretty much, chronically stressed (in both good and bad ways). I made a list of ongoing projects and I’m a little embarrassed to share it, so let’s just say it’s over 50 items long. I’m looking to slow my change seeking behaviors and hope to report to you a healthier update in the future.