5 Keys to Setting Limits that Minimize Tantrums and Meltdowns

Guiding children sometimes includes setting limits or boundaries, and is a necessary part of keeping our children safe and helping them learn about themselves, their relationships, and the world around them. And we can guide children and set limits with them in ways that minimize tantrums simply by creating an emotionally nurturing environment and by our approach to limit-setting. This is also an opportunity for us to model respect, collaboration, and focusing on solutions!

We can choose to engage with our children and reinforce boundaries in ways that minimize triggering an emotionally overwhelming response.

5 Keys to Setting Limits That Minimize Tantrums

  • Connect
  • Respond With Intention
  • Model Appropriate Emotional Responses
  •  Use Positive Language
  • Implement Creative Solutions
When we set limits with our children, how we set the limit is key. In order to minimize tantrums and meltdowns it helps to consider their developmental ability to handle both the limit and the delivery of the limit. This does not mean we “fall all over ourselves” to keep from upsetting them; it simply means we consider their emotional development when we choose our approach to setting a limit. Children are able to deal with limits when they are set in ways that are emotionally nurturing.
Here are some examples of language you can practice with your children today:
Your toddler is throwing blocks and dumping toys all over the house…
Your immediate reaction is to think, “unsafe! big mess! stoooooooooop!”
Instead, take a deep breath and respond:

 “I can see you’re having fun throwing the blocks and dumping the toys. We want everyone to be safe. You can throw them in this laundry basket or you can drop them on a pillow.”

First we connect by acknowledging the fun our child is having. This allows our children to know we understand their actions and that we are in partnership with them versus have a power struggle against them. Then we take time to respond with intention, which models appropriate emotional responses by remaining calm and empathetic. Finally, we model positive language and show our child a creative solution so the child can continue to learn about the world in safe ways.

Your preschooler wants ice cream while you’re cooking dinner.
Your immediate reaction is to think, “I’m working hard to fix a healthy dinner. Ice cream will ruin your appetite. No way!”

Instead, take a deep breath and respond:

“Ice cream is so yummy. Wouldn’t it be fun to eat it all the time? We can have ice cream after we eat dinner.”

First we connect by acknowledging our child’s wishes, which maximizes a collaborative relationship with our child. We connect by acknowledging how fun it really would be to eat ice cream! Then we take time to respond with an intentionally appropriate emotional responses – we remain calm and empathetic; and we use positive language to set the limit, telling the child when s/he can have what she wants.

Another example: In May my daughter (age 4) and I bought sushi to eat before grocery shopping. She wanted ice cream first, so we talked about food as fuel for our bodies and she came up with a creative solution, “How about I dip my sushi in my ice cream?” I knew she was very hungry, so I agreed. She dipped her sushi in her ice cream until all the sushi was gone, then gobbled up the rest of her ice cream (mango, ginger sorbet…an excellent choice for a sushi dip, eh?! LOL). Knowing our children is an important part of this process too!

Your 7-year old wants to stay at the zoo until it closes even though everyone is exhausted after 7 hours at the zoo already.
Your immediate reaction is to think, “No. You’re tired and we need to get home and have dinner before we all have a meltdown!”

Instead, take a deep breath, consider their request, and respond:
“You’ve have had so much fun at the zoo today and you’re not ready to leave. I had a lot of fun today too and I wish I had the energy to stay as long as you want. But I’m tired and hungry, and I don’t want to be cranky with anyone. Let’s choose one more animal to visit and then talk about a game to play on the way home.”

First we connect with our child, then we let them know our own limits (we do have them!), and then we collaborate with our child on what they can do and use positive language to let our child know what they can look forward to doing in the future. Again, we take time to respond with an intentionally appropriate emotional response.

What are some more alternatives to responding to these situations in ways that model appropriate communication and solution-focused interactions? What are some other scenarios you want help with to minimize tantrums and create connections?

Of course these are ways to MINIMIZE tantrums and meltdowns, not eliminate them. To learn how to respond to temper flares and meltdowns look for our post coming soon…

 “5 Steps to Help Children Tame Their Own Tantrums”

“How to Help Ourselves Tame Our Adult Tantrums”

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