Problem Solving to Tame Tantrums

It was a typical day, it was a typical toddler tantrum. I had cut the rind off the watermelon slices and he wanted it left on. There was wailing and tears and falling in a crumpled heap on the floor (by the four-year-old not me). Meanwhile, I sat there and wondered: what do I do next?

Here’s what happened:

I calmly said ‘I can’t do anything about this until you calm down’. And I waited for the tears and yelling to stop. (Don’t try and work on a solution when the child is crying: you might end up getting overwhelmed and angry. Depending on what your child needs, you might send them to their room or a safe place to calm down, or cuddle them and help them count or breathe to calm down.)

Problem Solving to Tame Tantrums

I said ‘Let’s think about our options: can you think of a solution?’ When he couldn’t, I asked if it would be okay for me to think of some. We made a list:

  • Don’t eat any watermelon today
  • Eat it like it is (slices with no rind)
  • Cut the watermelon into cubes and eat the watermelon with a fork

He chose the third option and happily ate watermelon cubes that day.

And then we created this problem solving process that I could print and put up on the wall. We still use the same process today:

  • Identify the problem: Once the child is calm, use empathy and ask if you understand the problem, for example: “Are you upset because you wanted the peel left on the watermelon pieces?”
  • List some solutions: as children get bigger and practice using this process, they will be able to think of some solutions too. Don’t come up with too many options, though, or they’ll get overwhelmed! List them on your fingers, and then…
  • Pick one to try: this gives the child a choice of how to solve their problem, which gives them the feeling of ownership about their decision. Make sure that you stick with the plan you’ve created (unless it becomes dangerous!), so that the child can trust your follow through.

The reason we love using this process is it shows the child that having a tantrum won’t solve the problem, but when we talk about things, we can find some different solutions. It teaches the child problem solving skills and how to look for options when things don’t go according to (their) plan. And it empowers the child to make a choice within appropriate boundaries.

Download the Problem Solving Process

If you’d like a copy to display and teach your child, download the Problem Solving Process.

As I mentioned earlier, we still have this process stuck up on the wall and use it from time to time. It still helps us to resolve issues when someone is having a tantrum (even if that someone is mummy!).

I’d love to hear if you use this tool or something different! Comment below with the situation and how you resolved it!

Tanya xx

PS Will this problem solving process work for every tantrum? No, it won’t. Children have tantrums for a whole heap of reasons… but it will work if it’s a tantrum that stems from the child’s expectations not being met in one way or another.

About The Author


Tanya lives in Canberra with her husband and two sons. She is passionate about helping women to live fulfilled, purposeful lives. She enjoys reading, cooking, craft and creating memorable moments for her family.


  • Smita Acharya

    Reply Reply 17/08/2016

    Hi Tanya
    This is a good approach. I do not have kids yet, but I think this guide can help tantrums from ‘kids’ of any age!

    • Tanya

      Reply Reply 17/08/2016

      You’re right! I still use this process when I feel overwhelmed and have a little bit of a tantrum! xx

  • This. Is. Gold.

    Even now and then I have stumbled across this process (through trial and error) and it does work most of the time.

    Love the printout to display for the whole family to learn from. It will prove very useful in our household, for sure! 😉

  • Nicola

    Reply Reply 17/08/2016

    Tanya, what a great idea! I will definitely have to try this with my eldest toddler 🙂 Getting them calm first is the key isn’t it, otherwise nothing works. Thanks for sharing your experience, a very helpful process to try!

    • Tanya

      Reply Reply 17/08/2016

      Hi Nicola, thanks for your comment! I hope that the process works well for you… no doubt there will be an opportunity to try it out soon! xx

  • Faith

    Reply Reply 17/08/2016

    I am a big fan of this approach. Not only with my child, but with my preschool students as well. Every kid is different, just like every day. However, this is at least a great place to start to start.


    • Tanya

      Reply Reply 17/08/2016

      Thanks Faith, you are so right – every child and situation is different! Lots of deep breaths as we try and figure out what is best for our child! x

  • J. Ivy Boyter

    Reply Reply 18/08/2016

    Such a simple technique … I wish I had thought of this when my daughter was younger and more tantrum prone.
    I WILL need it for my son … He’s shown signs as early as 2 months that he’s going to be a handful when things don’t go his way *sigh*

    • Tanya

      Reply Reply 19/08/2016

      Sigh. It’s both good and challenging to have a spunky child! All the best xx

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