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How to Teach Tantrum Alternatives

Katie Malinski


The scene: your 4 year old is upset because you have brought her the pink shoes instead of the purple ones.  (How could you?!)  She is whining, crying, and maybe both of you are starting to raise your voices.

Yes!  Experiment with this next time you have a child who is upset over something you don’t mind compromising about:

  • Take a deep breath yourself.  Keep your body and mind as peaceful as possible.
  • Tell your daughter to take her own deep breath and then to use her words to ask for what she wants.
  • The (deep) breath is important, don’t let either of you skip that part… and you might need more than one!
  • Say something like: “Wow, honey, you are really mad!  But remember, we can use our words to solve this problem.”  (or, “YOU can use your words to get what you want here.”)
  • When she does take a deep breath and ask for what she wants (even if it’s not perfectly done), praise her for using her words SO WELL! and immediately bring her the purple shoes.
  • Talk about it afterwards with her, in order to review the experience & strengthen the teachable moment… this might sound something like “You were so upset when I brought the pink shoes.  I was so proud of you that you took a deep breath and used your words to ask for what you really wanted.  And it worked!  You got exactly what you wanted and we could go back to playing right away.  I’m so proud of you!”

It may take dozens of repetitions (or more,) but eventually you’ll start seeing the time between (a) the beginnings of upset and (b) greater self-regulation and calmly talking through problems, begin to decline.  This is huge!  Give yourself and your kid a pat on the back and a lot of credit.

Note: Remember, this is for small stuff where she really can have whatever she wants–not situations where what she wants is a pony or to skip school, etc.

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Katie Malinski

Katie Malinski LCSW is a licensed child and family therapist and parenting coach. In addition to her one-on-one work with families and children, she presents dynamic parenting workshops on a variety of topics, including: Beyond Birds and Bees, Parenting Through Divorce, Typical Parenting Conflicts, and many more. Learn more about Katie at