A “Rational” Solution for Tantrums


I read on the internet one day a very scientificy article about how toddlers and pre-schoolers can’t use the “rational” part of their brain at the same time as the “emotional” part of their brain. I don’t remember the context that this information was in (or what the purpose of the study was), but it got me thinking. If my kid is in the midst of a crazy-yelling, screaming, throwing himself on the floor- tantrum, and I started talking to him about something, anything, logical, what would happen?

The opportunity to test this came not long after I read this article (because, three-year-olds). He was screaming and crying and thrashing about and I asked him what his name was. “Semmes,” he managed to spit out. How old are you? Can you count to ten? What’s your favorite color? Who’s your big brother? Who is taller: mommy or daddy? What color is a cardinal? And with each response, the crying grew less and less and soon he was back on an even keel.

I could not believe that it worked. Maybe it was a fluke. There’s no way something as simple as asking him questions would work on his terrible tantrums. But then it worked again. And again. It was the craziest thing.

I started on this over a year ago. And yes, I realize that a large part of what I’m about to say is because he’s older (and more mature) now, but I think this weird asking questions thing helped a lot too. His tantrums are way less dramatic and there are significantly fewer of them. I think showing him that using his logical brain to come out of the tantrums helped by showing him a way to calm himself down. I know that there are other strategies you can teach your kids (deep breaths, stomping their feet, etc.), but this worked for mine.

Right after my son turned three, we moved to another city and state, he started a new school, and we had a baby. His life was literally turned upside down. He didn’t regress developmentally, he didn’t start bedwetting, or many of the other things I had heard might happen when you rearrange the life of a toddler so drastically. But he did start throwing the most epic, scary, we actually took him to see a psychologist tantrums. And asking him questions helped. Which is as amazing at it is unbelievable. And now, at almost 5 he’s a whole new, happy-as-can-be kid.


  1. I love this idea. I’m thinking of ways to apply it to other emotional situations. Although it may hinge on that developmental stage of the brain. Cause I’ll tell you what, when I’m having a PMS tantrum and my husband asks a question like “Is it PMS?”, it throws me over the edge. But maybe if he asked me a if I wanted chocolate? ?.

  2. I sort of do this with my 15 month old! She likes to respond to “what does a dog (or any other animal) say?” with the sound that animal makes, so if she’s really upset and you ask her one of those questions, she typically stops to think about it and answer. I think it’s a great way to redirect and get them focused on something positive!

  3. Thank you for your post! I am a writer for the Wine Country Moms Blog and precisely today I had an episode of my two-year-old having a tantrum. I am so glad this came across Facebook and I was able to read it and apply what you have done with my toddler.

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