How to Deal with Aggressive Preschool Tantrums

Child Tantrum

Dear Selfless Esteem,
My sister’s in jail and her kids are in my care now. Her 4yo is about to get kicked out of preschool because he throws chairs and hits the other kids. He also tantrums at home, screams, hits his sister, and throws things. What do I do?
Tornado Watch

Dear Tornado Watch,

You have such a big heart. How kind of you to help your sister and care for her kids! 😇 It sounds as if it’s a very difficult time for everyone. Read on for five suggestions.

1. Pray.

Jeremiah 32:17 says, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.” Pray to God about your situation because He is willing and able to guide you on this journey.

Spend time in God’s presence, which is full of peace and love. For more details about focusing on God, see the posts, “Why Selfless Esteem Is Better Than Self-Esteem,” “The Real Truth About God,” and “How To Pray in 5 Simple Steps.” Also, “Hymns for a Mother’s Heart” by Jana White is a beautiful book of devotionals, hymns and prayers for maternal figures, who are facing the challenges of raising children.

2. Get Help.

Don’t hesitate to request assistance from your support system. For example, ask family members or friends to babysit so that you can take a break.


Take your nephew to get a physical examination in case he has any medical problems. The physician can determine if he needs referrals to specialists for more assessments.

Find a competent therapist, who can help him process any trauma he has experienced, i.e. possibly witnessing his mother’s arrest. The therapist can also help him identify and express his feelings about his separation from his mother. Tantrums are sometimes the result of an underlying need; therefore, another focus of therapy could be learning how to identify and communicate his needs in an appropriate way.

3. Build a Partnership with the School.

Partner with school staff by communicating with them frequently. Have a meeting with the teachers to create a safety plan, which may include but is not limited to the following:

  • A list of typical triggers to your nephew’s tantrums
  • Proactive interventions to prevent a tantrum
  • Reactive interventions in case he has a tantrum
  • A safe place, where he can calm down

4. Know What to Do Before, During, and After Tantrums.

Before the Tantrum

Try to work around his triggers. For example, if he tantrums whenever he has to transition to an undesirable activity, consider using a timer to help him understand how much time he has left before transitioning. You could even experiment with different types of timers, i.e. digital, analog, and hourglass.

Provide toys, which tend to have a calming effect, such as kinetic sand and play dough. Art supplies and sticker books are also good options. See “12 Screen Time Alternatives” from Behind the Classroom for more ideas for activities for young children.

As soon as your nephew starts to get upset, quickly pick your battles and/or offer choices to prevent a tantrum. At this time, don’t worry about whether you’re going to spoil him by giving him whatever he wants (within reason). He currently doesn’t have the capacity to regulate his emotions, and so the goal is to prevent a melt-down. After he adjusts to his new living situation and learns to handle disappointments, you will be able to discipline effectively.

During the Tantrum

Take a couple of deep breaths to remain calm and to avoid saying or doing something you will regret. Gently validate your nephew’s feelings. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

As your nephew tantrums, he cannot think rationally so there’s no point in trying to reason with him or trying to stop the tantrum. Basically, the tantrum will end when he gets tired. In the meantime, scan the environment for any hazards, and closely supervise the situation to protect him and his sister from getting hurt.

After the Tantrum

Preschool Tantrums

After the tantrum, he may be apologetic. He might feel bad about himself because 1) he lacks self-control and 2) his behavior negatively effects his relationships with his peers. For these reasons, point out his strengths and acknowledge any good behavior.

As your nephew deescalates, the feelings you were suppressing during the tantrum might start to surface. This is common. You may feel angry and tempted to reprimand him for his tantrum. Resist this urge or else he could become triggered again. Instead, wait until you are both fully calm before you discuss the incident. Express unconditional love as you discuss what happened, and assume he is trying with the best of his ability, given his circumstances.

5. Take Care of Yourself.

You are doing so much for others—be sure to take care of yourself too, especially during this challenging time. See the post 6 Effective Ways to Manage Stress for tips.

Raising children is not easy. Having your own therapy is a healthy outlet for your emotions. (See the post, “Why You Need a Therapist ASAP.”) I also encourage you to join a parenting class to get support from other parents and valuable parenting techniques. Consider participating in a parenting group, such as MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers).

Last but not least, take heart in Psalm 29:11, which states, “The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace.” You can depend on God to walk your family through this and meet your needs (Philippians 4:19). 💫

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version®. Copyright © 1984 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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  1. TC

    That is a tough one. Really liked that you mentioned M.OP.S.! My brother’s wife found that group so encouraging, comforting, and sanity saving, lol! I might check them out myself one day. : )

    1. Gina Leggio

      I’m glad to hear it was a good experience for your sister-in-law. Thanks so much for your comment!

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