How to Deal with Tantrums Using the Word ‘Could’ (instead of ‘Should’) – Part 1

You know one of those situations where all you can think of saying is “You should be nicer to your brother”, or “You shouldn’t have used your permanent marker on the sofa”?

We have all been there. I recently found out that a micro shift in the words I use with my children can go a long way. Could is such a better choice than should. Particularly with a frustrated child in the middle of an argument.


The message our children get when we tell them, on a regular basis, “You should do / you should not do” is, plainly put: “There is something wrong with you”.

And we don’t just do it with our children. Actually, as adults, we often attack ourselves with our own words.

Going around saying “I failed at this” or “Why did I do something so stupid?”, releases dangerous chemical reactions in our own brain. Watch out for the constant nasty self-talk too – “I am a total mess”, “I am not good enough”: even when silent, these words can be killers.

Talking badly about ourselves, to others or inside our head, will crystallize the problem instead of fixing it. It will encourage a vision of us as failure. Our children will sense this. They will take it in. Eventually, the might emulate it.

We can instead limit the bad experience to a determined moment in our life, and into a specific situation. The problem we face is not us, it is external – we are not the problem. We don’t need to identify ourselves with it.

Same goes for our little humans. Sometimes children have tantrums. Some children, during certain phases of their growth, have tantrums quite often.


As parents, especially when the tantrum happens in a public space (supermarket, anyone?), we can live it with a lot of stress.

It does help me a great deal in these moments to see the tantrum not as something that my child is doing to me, but first of all as a stressful situation for her or him.

The child is in a lot of stress and her way to express is through her tantrum.

Children are not sly manipulators of their parents.

They are young inexperienced humans that sometimes do not have yet developed the fine skills of dealing with frustrations.

So her meltdown is surely not against me, as I would not consider it against me if a dyslexic child could not read with ease. She just can’t help it, for the moment.

If I want to be of support, I need to be his or her ally in this.


That’s how I try to do it:

  • Talking to the child to figure out the reasons of the outburst (“I really wanted that candy, mommy”),
  • Validating her frustration (“You wanted the candy. I know it is difficult to accept that we cannot always have what we want, but we could try and find a solution together”),
  • Brainstorming alternatives for the next time she felt that way (“When we come to the supermarket, I could buy you a banana instead of the candy”).
  • If the child is far too upset to stop screaming and listen, instead of shouting louder than her in order to be heard (which is useless and frustrating), try to pause and listen to what she is saying, giving her your undivided attention, even if it is annoying or difficult. I found this strategy particularly good for older children, as I wrote in a recent post.

None of these are easy ways, I know.

But you can open up a dialogue mode that is so much more effective than the youshouldlearntobehavebetter regular attitude.

And your child will see that you respect her feelings and you are there to listen to them.

Look out for the second part of this post, where we will try to apply to our children the same compassion and understanding that we sometimes find easier to grant to stressed adults.

Until then,

I hope this serves you and your child.

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