Managing Tantrums and Supporting Self-Regulation – Advice from an OT 

September 28, 2020 BY Christina Gagosian, OTR-L

Our emotional regulation has been put to the test as we are all staying home and changing our routines. Here are some helpful tips to help support your child’s social-emotional skills during this challenging time: 

  • 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 educate caregivers on how to facilitate supportive environments that promote social-emotional development. If your child is having a hard time regulating themselves, here’s when to refer to an occupational therapist: 

  • Meltdowns are causing disruption to family routines (ex. Outings in the community, mealtimes, playtime, etc).
  • 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 (ex. mealtime, bathing, dressing, going to the store, etc.) 

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. And if you’d like to share this information with others, we’ve created this single-sheet downloadable for just that purpose!

Click on the image below to be taken to the free pdf.