Managing Tantrums & Supporting Self-Regulation

September 28, 2020
Christina Gagosian, OTR-L
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Our emotional regulation is put to the test any time there is a change in routine. Ideally, we're able to take care of ourselves when this happens, but some children experience challenges in self-regulation, resulting in an increase in tantrums. This can be challenging for everyone involved, but never fear! There are lots of things you can do to support children when these moments arise.

Tips for supporting self-regulation

  • Keep things consistent. Aim to follow a regular schedule, keeping mealtimes and bedtimes as consistent as possible.
  • Prepare for change. Warn your child ahead of time if there will be changes to their routine.
  • Establish clear expectations. Keep family rules and consequences consistent across all caregivers.
  • Provide calming strategies. When your child is tantruming, offer immediate calming strategies (hug, breathing, quiet space, swaddle, slow rocking, etc). Problem-solve together after your child has calmed.
  • Empathize. Acknowledge your child’s feelings and then access coping skills to regain self-control. Address the emotion that is causing the behavior. For example: “I understand you are feeling upset because we could not get ice cream. Let’s take a break and talk about it when you feel better.”
  • Highlight the positive. Provide verbal praise for positive behaviors and highlight your child’s strengths.
  • Co-regulate. Children pick up on their parent’s emotions very easily. When your child has a tantrum, try to use a calm and quiet voice. Get on their eye level when talking.

How occupational therapy can help

Occupational therapists use a child-centered approach to examine motor, sensory, social-emotional, and cognitive skills to support the child’s ability to participate in everyday activities. They "consider the complex relationship between the client, the activity, and the environment" and educate caregivers on how to facilitate supportive environments that promote social-emotional development. If you are interested in supporting self-regulation for your child, here's when to refer to an occupational therapist:

  • Meltdowns are disrupting family routines (e.g., Outings in the community, mealtimes, playtime).
  • Distress or fears are preventing your child from engaging in age-appropriate activities.
  • Frequent distress with changes in routine and transitions.
  • Your child has difficulty playing with others, making and maintaining friends.
  • Your child has multiple tantrums a day.
  • It takes a long time for your child to calm down after a tantrum (>20 minutes).
  • Your child is easily frustrated during everyday tasks and has difficulty persisting through challenging tasks.
  • Your child is distressed during activities with a high sensory load (e.g., mealtime, bathing, dressing, going to the store).

If you'd like to speak to an occupational therapist, please contact us! We'd be happy to talk with you about what's going on and help you decide whether an evaluation might be warranted.


Are you passionate about making a difference in children's lives? Care Options for Kids offers exciting pediatric healthcare careers for dedicated professionals. Whether you're interested in pediatric occupational therapy jobs or pediatric nurse practitioner positions, we have opportunities that allow you to provide compassionate care in a rewarding environment. Join our team and help shape the future of pediatric home services.