Every second counts: How to tame tantrums before they start

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By Lisa Flam

When your little one is about to dissolve into a temper tantrum, every second counts.

Parents can try to head off a full-on meltdown by knowing the signs their kids may show just before they lose it, parenting expert Michele Borba told Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb on TODAY Thursday.

“If you look real carefully at your child, you’ll see a predictable pattern that happens seconds before the exorcism,” said Borba, an educational psychologist.

When parents see those signs — the clenched fists or feet moving a certain way—they can take action.

Parents can distract their child with “Hey, look at the birdie,” or use “emotion coaching” by saying: “‘You look really sad or you look mad. Go take your mads out,’” Borba said.

Another idea is to tell kids to freeze, and take “big, big dragon breaths,” she said.

“What we discovered is the seconds before, actually can stop it,” Borba said.

She suggested parents help their child learn a habit or routine they can use to manage their emotions when things start to get tough, often when they are tired, bored or hungry.

Borba's tips for taming tantrums:

  • For young kids, have them blow bubbles right before they get really angry. “They can learn, you take a deep, deep breath and blow your meannies away."
  • Older kids can try yoga. “Yoga is wonderful because getting a slow deep breath into your brain is the fastest way to control yourself.” 
  • Koosh or stress balls can also help, especially ones that kids can draw their emotions on. And every parent should carry Play-Doh for kids to mush their fingers through.

While kids are so full of emotion, Borba says it’s OK for kids to see parents' emotions to show different moods are normal. But remember to “plainly explain” why you are feeling the way you do, she said.

“Say, ‘Hey I’m really sad because Grandpa’s sick but I’m going to go outside to get myself collected,’ or ‘I’m really angry so I’m going to turn off to the side of the road to get myself back into shape,’” Borba says.

And remember, kids often mimic their parents’ emotions.

“They come with video cam recorders planted inside their heads,” Borba says. “They will play them back at the most inopportune moments. Realize your power and your influence, because what you model will be mirrored back to your child.”

Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.

For more information, visit the Parent Toolkit.