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How to manage temper tantrums in high spirited children

If you have a spirited child, you know that their meltdowns can be intense- for both your child and yourself. The things that work with non-spirited or more laid-back children, simply don’t work for your spirited child. 

My first born is very high-spirited. It became evident shortly after he was born, and this characteristic has stuck with him as he’s continued to grow. Now, at 2 ½ years old, we have an extremely high-spirited toddler who is also going through the “terrible twos”. Toddler age is hard to begin with, but figuring out how to manage temper tantrums with these highly determined and sensitive children can seem impossible at times. 

Once you’ve identified your child is high-spirited, you begin to better understand their unique needs and adapt the ‘usual’ tactics to actually work for your child. 

As I mentioned before, spirited children don’t respond to the same parenting techniques that more easygoing kids do. One of the tactics recommended for most toddlers is to ignore the tantrum to alleviate the behavior. While this may work for other toddlers or young children, you’ll likely find it’s ineffective or even intensifies the behavior with your spirited child. 

When dealing with temper tantrums in high-spirited children, here are some things that don’t work:

Time out’s:

This has never worked with my child. Not only does he not calm down, he often starts screaming and crying more. Part of it may be his age and not fully understanding the point of time-out’s, but I find it does nothing to rectify the situation and only sets us back further. 


Sometimes we offer consequences such as, “If you don’t stop doing X, then you don’t get Y.” While this may work for other children, spirited children (my son included) tend to become more defiant and upset. 

Ignoring their behavior:

This is absolutely the #1 thing I’ve learned NOT to do. High-spirited children are more sensitive and do require more attention on a regular basis. During their meltdown, the last thing they need is to feel like they aren’t being heard. We need to step in and help calm them down, or their emotions can spiral out of control, and the tantrum will carry on..and on..and on. 

So what do you do when your toddler has a tantrum? 

Do you just give in to their every request? Do you avoid all punishment because the fight isn’t worth it? Do you avoid certain things all together to prevent the backlash of screaming and crying? The answer is No. 

Not only is this unfair to other children in the household, it’s also unfair to your high-spirited child. They need routine and structure, and they also need discipline. The difference is found in the way you get to the discipline, which does involve some added flexibility. As long as they remain in meltdown mode, any form or reasoning or explaining will be a waste of time.

|  Being flexible doesn’t mean giving in! It simply means adapting the order of your tactics to better suit your child’s needs. 

1. Have a plan

You need to have a plan in place before the tantrum happens. This includes discussing it with your spouse or other caretakers, so there is consistency. Children thrive on consistency and routine, and your spirited child is no different. This isn’t to say your plan won’t change based on the circumstances, rather that you’ve decided ahead of time what works for your child and what doesn’t. 

2. Get on their level

This applies to ALL children. They need to know you’re talking to them, not at them. By bringing yourself down to eye-level with your child, they know you’re paying attention to their needs and acknowledging their struggle, without giving in to their request. This helps to teach your child that “Yes, I know that you want to go outside, but it’s too hot today and we can’t do that right now.” Will this end the tantrum? Unfortunately not for a spirited child, but they still need to know they are heard. 

3. Talk calmly

Make sure not to raise your voice or get worked up yourself. From experience, I know this can be hard. It’s frustrating to hear your child cry louder and louder no matter what you do or say, but use a calm voice despite their screaming. This helps them remember you are in control and their outbursts won’t phase you (even though we’re all screaming inside!)

Managing temper tantrums in kids

4. Give options

Giving your toddler options is a tactic that sometimes works, and therefore is part of our regular process. If my toddler doesn’t want to go to bed and meltdown mode begins, instead of letting him stay up, we give him 2 choices: “Do you want Mommy to put you to bed, or Daddy?” This lets him know that he still needs to go to bed while giving him some level of control over the situation. The same can work with bath time, meal time, etc. However limiting them to 2 choices is key, especially at this age. More than 2 choices can become overwhelming. 

5. Distract, distract, distract

In the midst of the temper tantrum, when your child is screaming louder and louder, the best way to deescalate the situation is by distracting them onto something else. Remind them of something fun that is planned later, or suggest an alternative activity that you know they enjoy. Sometimes it helps if you start doing the activity first. “Oh these blocks look fun! Do you want to help me build a tower?” Whatever it takes to shift them out of meltdown mode and calm down. 

6. Explain the why/why not

Until your child is past the intense crying/screaming, they won’t be able to digest the “why” behind their tantrum. While other children may listen to reason and explanation in the middle of the fight and ultimately respond by calming down, most high-spirited children will not.

It's important to review why the child got in trouble, understanding what set them off in the first place, or simply reviewing their behavior and why it's not okay to act that way. But until your child has calmed down, the logic of this message won't be received.

7. Don’t give up 

If you have a high spirited child, then you know how HARD it can be to keep up with "flexible discipline" and not loose your mind. Some days it feels like you're going in circles and making no progress. But our kids need consistency, routine and persistence. Even when you don't think it's working, keep going. Even when you feel like screaming back, don't. Trust me, each time you follow the process and don't give in, your children are paying attention and learning how to manage their emotions in a more constructive way.

Raising a high-spirited child can be extremely draining and seem like a never ending battle, but your child isn't "broken". They just experience the world and all of life's emotions a little differently, and sometimes more intensely. Once you learn how to best support them in the midst of these emotions, the easier it becomes on you and them.

Remember, we are raising the most amazing kids! They fight hard and love big! Be flexible in the moment, consistent with discipline, and loving at all times. Your hard work will pay off!



July 28, 2021