There is never a reason to give a time-out to a child for having a tantrum, melt-down, or whatever you want to call it. I’m talking about the kind of “fit” that is way beyond wining, manipulation, or just plain stubbornness. It is beyond their control in that moment, and they need to be protected from hurting themselves (and others).
It is best to hold them (tight enough so they can’t get away, but not so tight that you risk hurting them). I sit on the floor and carefully sit them down in front of me, facing away, or I hold them on my lap. They might scream, yell, cry, and throw their bodies back and forth. They might tell you you’re hurting them (make sure you are not). Keep quiet, steady, and, without anger, occasionally tell them they’re going to be alright. That everything is alright. Ride the tidal wave! When you sense they have calmed down and are a little bit receptive, tell them you will let them go when they stop crying. You can start to let go a little when you see them able to begin to calm down. If they start up again, go back to holding them, tightly if you need to.
I’ve used this technique many times over the years, and it works. Think of it like this: They have lost control and need you to take over and be in control of them. Keep in mind that it may not look like this when it is happening.
Only after they’ve calmed down completely can you ask them why they were so upset. Even if they cannot identify what it was, it’s a great time to say something to help them understand what just happened. That you’re not angry with them (even if you are!), and that they couldn’t help it. Ask them if they feel better. Explain to them that you had to hold them because they needed help while they were so upset.
As an adult, it’s very hard at first to stay calm and to not get angry. I’ve had lots of practice, with my own child and then with so many children over the last 27-1/2 years, and yet I still find myself really wanting them to stop when I want them to, and wondering in the middle of it if I’m really doing the right thing. But it has been borne out time and time again, and so I go into the holding position with a certain level of confidence. I often have to reassure the other kids in the group that the child who is crying is angry or upset, but that he or she will be alright; that they just have to cry for a while. Since kids take most of their cues from us, that is usually enough reassurance. The key is to remain calm and steady. Getting angry with them will only serve to intensify their own feelings, adding greatly to the flood of emotions that has enveloped them and is frightening them while it’s happening.
After experiencing a few of these unsettling episodes in your own child, you may begin to see tantrums developing. Sometimes you can prevent them from escalating by holding your child quietly.