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Turn Tantrums Into Teachable Moments

Turning Tantrums into Teachable Moments

I remember the day well. I was tired after a long day of work, and I wanted nothing more than to settle into a cozy night at home. I picked up my daughter from her after school program, and she was clearly exasperated that I had arrived to take her home in the middle of an activity that she was thoroughly enjoying.

“Just 5 more minutes, mommy?”
“Okay, 5 minutes.”

As I stood there watching my social butterfly play, I was mindful of the fact that her younger brother was still on the other side of campus waiting to be picked up. After five minutes had passed she reluctantly agreed to leave but not without a rolling of the eyes and a comment that I ALWAYS come too early to get her.

Let me confess that eye rolling and generalizations often create a strong negative reaction in me, so I was proud that I’d exercised patience thus far. I thought we were home free as we all made our way to the car, and then it happened.

“Mommy, can I have a snack?”
“I don’t have a snack, but I’ll get you one as soon as we get home.”

The floodgates opened, tears started pouring down my daughter’s cheeks, and I was reminded about how I NEVER have snacks for my children after school. That was it. I lost my cool and began lecturing my daughter with my stern, mommy voice about how she should be grateful for what she has instead of focusing on what she doesn’t have. I reminded her that she wasn’t really starving and that I didn’t deserve to be treated the way she was treating me.

If I could have a do over, I could have offered a little more empathy. In my daughter’s eyes, it’s no fun to leave in the middle of a game and we all know what it’s like to be “hangry” at the end of the day. I could have offered my little one a hug, and explain I’d had a long day too. Modeling the behavior I’d like to see in my children – That’s how to turn a tantrum into a teachable moment.

Take Away Tips

Minimize tantrums by:

  • Setting clear expectations in a loving way
  • Providing ample time for transitions
  • Catching your child behaving well instead of focusing on what they’re doing incorrectly
  • Ask questions that help children name their emotions
  • Model the behavior you wish to see
  • Put yourself in time out when you need a break
  • Remember that children are supposed to test limits. They’re not out to get you (most of the time!)
  • I’ve also learned that keeping snacks in the car is a great preventative measure!

Dr. Carmen Anderson is a School Counselor at St. Mary’s School, a private International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, located in south Orange County, dedicated to providing the best education possible for Preschool, Elementary and Middle School students. Carmen Anderson earned her B.S. degree in Psychology from Santa Clara University and later her M.A./Psy.D in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University. For more information about St. Mary’s School, visit

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