How to help children overcome tantrums:

Messages from Chinuch Research Center

Are you tired of your child’s tantrums taking over your life? Don’t worry, Chinuch Recourse Center is here to help! this solution-focused approach emphasizes positive reinforcement and teaches children self-regulation skills to put an end to those tantrums. With this step-by-step guidance and live examples, you’ll be able to successfully implement our approach and regain control of your household. Don’t let tantrums control your life any longer – let us help you tame them! Contact us today to learn more about our resources and services.

Stress Management

How to help children overcome tantrums:

Background information 

Aggressive outbursts of anger by a child – also called tantrums, meltdowns, or hissy fits – refer to sudden violent fits of uncontrolled rage. These are typically provoked by a subjective experience of disappointment or frustration. During the fit, the child screams, hits, kicks, throws things around, or destroys property. A tantrum can last for several minutes, sometimes up to half an hour. Parents often report that their attempts to calm the child during the tantrum have no effect at all, and sometimes only make things worse. Children who have tantrums suffer from their problem and, while it may not always seem evident, they would want someone to help them overcome the problem. 

Tantrums are common in children aged 3-5 years. In this age group, a large percentage of children display this type of behavior. In the age range of 6-8, an equally large percentage of children exhibit aggressive outbursts of anger. But once children have reached the age of 9-12, a much lower percentage of them have the problem.  

Parents and mechanchim often feel helpless in the face of children’s tantrums. Children who have this problem are often referred to pediatric or psychiatric services for evaluation and treatment. In these services they are likely to receive a psychiatric diagnosis and a prescription for medication. 

In schools, children who have aggressive outbursts cause a lot of worry. Teachers, mechanchim, and rebbes feel powerless in the face of children’s outbursts and have few tools at their disposal. They may remove the child from the classroom, inform the parents, send the child to the principal’s office, or refer the child to counseling. The principal may talk to the child, organize a meeting with the parents, or even expel the child from the school. Oftentimes, social services are involved. 

None of these standard solutions work very well. Despite the efforts that have been tried – punishing or medicating the child, or expelling the child from school – the tantrums may continue. In alternative schools, a child’s tantrums are a huge challenge to the staff. Common responses include ignoring, medication, restraining, seclusion, or even punishing the child retroactively. 

A solution-focused approach 

Helping children overcome tantrums can be summarized in the following three steps: 

Step 1. Ask the child to think of some simple method to help him calm down in situations where he may lose his temper. For example, the child may come up with the idea of walking away from the situation, of counting to five, or sticking his hands into his pockets. It does not matter what method the child comes up with – what matters is that the child feels that he himself has chosen the method he is going to use. 

Step 2. Help the child draw up a custom-made training program that will help him practice his own calming-down method and become so skillful at it that he can use it in not only in simulated role-plays but also in challenging, real-life, anger-provoking situations. 

Step 3. Convince the child that, in order for the unique training program to work, he will need to think of some way for the important people in his life (e.g., parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, and friends) to help him learn to use his calming-down method. This step of involving the child’s own supporters ensures that not only will the child’s behavior change, but also that of everyone around him. 

Example 1 

Nine-year-old Eitan’s problem was that if things didn’t go his way, or if anyone opposed his suggestion, he could become mean and explode. He could scream at his teacher, hit his peers, throw things around, or rip a notebook or a book into pieces. His teacher talked to him and asked him what things he would want to improve at school. Eitan said he needed to learn to get along better with his schoolmates. 

Teacher: What do you need to learn in order to get along better with your schoolmates? 

Eitan: I need to learn to stay calm. 

Teacher: What could you do to stay calm when you are mad at something or someone? 

Eitan: I need to learn to go away and be by myself for some time and then go back, or go to ask a teacher to help me. 

Teacher: Suppose you learn to do that, what good will it do for you? 

When this question was discussed, the teacher became convinced that Eitan was fully aware of the many benefits of learning to calm down in situations that made him mad. 

Teacher: Do you want to give your skill a name? 

Eitan: It can be called ‘Snow.’ 

Teacher: I am sure you understand, Eitan, that if you are supposed to learn the snow skill, you will need to practice a lot and you will need to ask other people to help you. 

Ethan nodded in agreement. 

Teacher: Which people will you ask for help? 

Eitan: I will ask my parents and my sister to help me. 

Teacher: How were you thinking they could help you? They are not at school with you, are they? 

Eitan: They can ask me every day when I come home from school how I behaved that day in relation to the Snow skill. 

Teacher: That’s a great idea, but don’t you think you also need to have someone at school who can help you and support you in learning your skill? 

Eitan thought about the question for a moment and then said that he intended to ask Moshe and Yosef, two of his classmates, the teacher, and two other teachers to help him. 

Teacher: How can they help you when they notice that you are getting so mad they are afraid you will explode? 

Eitan: I don’t want anyone to criticize me. That only makes me angrier. But they can say to me ‘snow’. That’s all. 

Teacher: And what will you do if they say to you ‘snow’? 

Eitan: I will say to myself ‘stop,’ and then I will say ‘sorry.’ 

The teacher was surprised to hear those words come out of Eitan’s mouth. It sounded almost too good to be true. 

Teacher: If you want, you can have an imaginary supporter too. Do you have a major Torah figure that you particularly respect? 

Eitan decided that he wanted a someone from Tanach. He created his own pictures of the Torah figure he selected, colored them with crayons, and glued them to various places in order to remind himself of the skill he was determined to learn. 

The plan that Eitan’s rebbe helped him put together worked surprisingly well, probably because his two classmates, Moshe and Yosef, were eager to helpm. A few weeks later it was evident to everyone that Eitan had turned a corner. He had gained control over his aggressive impulsivity to the degree that both his friends and his rebbe recognized. 

* * * 

In the above example, the rebbe did not need to suggest to the child that he would need to learn the skill of calming himself down when he became upset, as the idea was brought up by the child himself. The rebbe then reinforced the boy’s motivation by discussing the benefits of learning the skill. When they both agreed that learning the skill was important, the teacher asked him to name the people he would ask to help him learn the skill. 

The child’s supporters play an important role in solution-focused child therapy. Their part is to help the child learn the skill by praising him for his progress and by reminding him whenever necessary about his cooling-down method. The plan also included a discussion about the name of the calming-down method and about how he wanted to celebrate learning the skill. These details add to the child’s motivation to work hard and learn to use the calming method when there is a risk of an aggressive outburst. 

The following case, provided by the principal of a small yeshiva, illustrates how the same approach can be used with a child who has been diagnosed with both conduct disorder and attention deficit disorder. 

Example 2 

Shmuel was a young bar mitzva bochur with many learning difficulties. He had been expelled from his regular school and was now attending a small special needs school for children presenting with so-called neurodevelopmental disabilities. Shmuel used to have vicious outbursts of anger during which he would shout and throw things around. After calming down, he usually cried, feeling ashamed of what he had done. One day he had an outburst of anger, but this time it was worse than ever before. He ran into the school’s kitchen, grabbed a bread knife, and flailed it in the air during his fury. Luckily, he didn’t hurt himself or anyone else, but everyone, including the other pupils of the school, was shocked. The situation was so serious that in the name of the security of the staff and the other students, the principal had to seriously consider expelling Shmuel from the school. Before doing that, however, he decided to have a frank heart-to-heart talk with Shmuel, to find out if there was anything that could have been done to ensure everyone’s safety. Shmuel was now sitting in the principal’s office with tears running down his cheeks. 

Principal: You know very well, Shmuel, that this can never happen again. We cannot have you here in our school if you don’t learn to control your temper. You will have to come up with something that you can do when you become angry that will prevent you from exploding. What can you do when you notice that you are getting so mad? 

Shmuel: I can run into the gym and bounce the basketballs really hard.  

Principal: That might work. Show me how you’d do it. Let’s pretend that you are furious about something and you are at the verge of exploding. Show me what you would do in that situation. 

Shmuel stood up briskly and darted to the gym where he started feverously to bounce the balls. The principal followed Shmuel, watching the entire demonstration. When Shmuel was done, the principal explained to Shmuel that the method could work on the condition that Shmuel would diligently rehearse it. Also, both staff and the students should be aware of this method so that they could remind him of it should he become angry and forget to use his method. 

Principal: How do you want your rebbe and everyone else here at school to remind you of your calming method if they see that you are so upset that you need to calm yourself down? 

Shmuel thought for a moment and then said that they can show him a gesture of banging their fists in the air. That would signal to him that he needed to dart to the gym to cool down. 

The principal asked Shmuel to show, first to his rebbe and then to other staff members, and finally to the other pupils of the school, what he was going to do from now on if he became so angry that he was in danger of exploding. Every time Shmuel showed people what he was going to do in case he became mad, he was, in effect, already rehearsing his new response. Shmuel also explained to everyone how he wanted them to remind him of his solution if there were any signs of his beginning to lose his control. When Shmuel’s parents came to pick him up later that day, Shmuel told them about the plan and had one more opportunity to rehearse his solution by showing it to them. 

Shmuel’s method worked. He never had another outburst of anger in school. Instead, he often used his cooling down method, either on his own initiative or by responding to a cue from his rebbe or someone else. Shmuel had many other learning problems to grapple with, but his tantrums were no longer an issue. 

* * * 

Children decide what calming method they want to use, they recruit their supporters, and they practice their method to learn it. This next example, another reported case, demonstrates how motivated parents can be coached to use the approach at home to help their child learn to calm down when he is at risk of losing his temper. 

Example 3 

Five-year-old Yehudis was a beloved child, but her tantrums had become more and more frequent and aggressive over the years. During one of her recent outbursts, she had broken a window by throwing a stool against it. Yehudis’ desperate parents reached out to a professional, Yaakov M., with the hope of getting advice on what do with their daughter. 

Yaakov told the parents that they should both sit with Yehudis and explain to her in a calm voice that she had now reached an age where she needed to learn to calm herself down when she would become very angry. He told them to explain to her that by learning to keep calm, she would be better able to express what she was disappointed about, and then say how her parents could help and support her. 

The parents were told to ask Yehudis to think of something she could do to calm herself down when she was angry. Yehudis did not have any suggestions. So, Yaakov instructed the parents to suggest that she should pick a designated spot in their home that would be called the ‘magic calming square.’ This would be a place where Yehudis could go and spend time when she needed to calm herself. The magic square could be marked on the floor with painter’s tape and Yehudis could decide for herself what toys, books, or other things she would keep in the magic square.

Yaakov explained to her parents that it was important for Yehudis not to view the magic square as a punishment, but as a means she had invented that would help her calm down when she was very angry. That is why it was important for Yehudis herself to decide where the magic square would be located and what she intended to do inside the square in order to calm down. It was also important for Yehudis to tell her parents how they should remind her of using the magic square when she looked like she was about to have a tantrum. 

When the parents came home, they sat down and talked calmly with Yehudis. They explained to her that they wanted her to learn to calm herself when she got upset and explained to her the idea of the magic square. To their surprise, Yehudis listened to them and she liked the idea of the magic square. She joined her parents in thinking about where the square should be and which toys and books she should keep in her square. When her parents asked her how she wanted them to remind her of the magic square, she came up with a gesture, a gentle hand motion, that her parents were would use as the reminder. 

During the following weeks, Yaakov consulted with the parents a few times, supporting them and encouraging them to stick to the plan they had drawn together with their daughter. Once the arrangement had been in use for several weeks, the parents informed Yaakov that they believed that their daughter had grown out of her bad habit of responding to disappointment with tantrums. 


In summary, children are willing to get help to overcome their aggressive outbursts, and they can do it by developing specific skills. Parents need guidance and advice to be better able to deal with their children who are suffering from tantrums. 

The suggested approach to tantrums 

  1. is simple. Because of its simplicity, the approach can be used not only by trained professionals but also by other people caring for children, including teachers, rebbes, mechanchim, parents, and grandparents. 
  2. appeals to children. The approach utilizes children’s instinctive desire to learn skills, to grow up, and to be seen by other people as more mature.
  3. appeals to parents. The approach is easy for parents to accept as it does not imply that they are the culprits of their child’s problems. Instead, they become valuable supporters of the child who is becoming better at coping with his strong emotions. 
  4. is cost-effective. When the approach works, it gives results rapidly, with limited requirement of professional involvement. 
  5. influences the entire social network. This approach engages the child’s social network in the process, thus helping family, teachers, rebbes, mechanchim, and even the child’s friends to join forces to support the child in a constructive manner.