"It's natural for kids to sometimes have big feelings. You haven't done something wrong if your child has an occasional tantrum or blow up. Parents should only worry if a child is chronically, constantly unhappy, or if tantrums are their only repertoire or tool for getting things."
Michael Thompson, Ph.D.
Author, Best Friends, Worst Enemies, Senior Project Advisor
When kids get mad, they get really mad. And parents, despite their best intentions, get mad too and often react by yelling back. One thing leads to another and a simple disagreement has turned into a battle of wills, with screaming, kicking and tears.
What to do? First, try not to feel embarrassed. Remember that any child, with any sense of self, is likely to have a tantrum sometime, someplace. And parents everywhere are wondering how to cope.
"Children often start to have a tantrum because they don't feel heard," points out Michael Thompson, Ph.D., author of Best Friends, Worst Enemies. "They think what they want is for their parents to give in. But often, what they really want is for their parents to stop and listen."
When you listen, experts agree that it's important to accept, rather than dismiss, your child's feelings - even if they're hard to take. "We live in an emotion-dismissing culture," says John Gottman, Ph.D., author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, "but if you build an awareness about your child's emotions and your own, particularly an awareness of smaller emotions, then it may not be necessary for emotions to escalate."
For practical strategies, click "Next" below and get pointers for talking about angry feelings — and more.
NOTE: The information in this article provides guidance for parents dealing with a child who experiences upsets in the normal course of growing up. If your situation is particularly challenging, and/or you have a child who has chronic tantrums, the suggestions provided here (while helpful) may not be sufficient. Parents caring for a child with greater emotional needs or who are dealing with a particularly challenging circumstance may want to seek specific professional help.