Tackling Tantrums and Challenging Behaviors Series Part 2: Establishing Routines

This article is part 2 of a 3 part series that shares best practices for parents to address and mitigate tantrums and/or challenging behaviors. Read part 1 and part 3. 

Establishing Routines

When I was teaching, I attended a conference with Bev Bos, who was an author, teacher and an advocate for play-based learning. She was a treasured educator, and it was one of the best conferences I had ever attended. She taught me many things, but that day she said something in her conference that has always resonated: Set your kids up for success. She didn’t mean this in a get the best grades kind of way. She was referring to younger children being successful throughout the day.

She asked us to consider how our classrooms were organized: Was there a consistent routine and structure? Were the children’s needs being met? Was there ample time for them to play and create? What I took away that day didn’t just help me as a teacher but also as a parent. Can we establish routines that will set our kiddos up for success? Below are some suggestions I give to parents.

Ensure a healthy sleep schedule

A healthy sleep schedule is necessary for children. When they’re well-rested, they’ll be less likely to throw a tantrum, or the tantrum will be more manageable. When my son was a toddler, if he missed his nap, we knew we were in for it that evening. His exhaustion always led to meltdowns. Knowing this, I never scheduled anything even close to the time of his nap. I adhered to his sleep schedule no matter how inconvenient. I knew his body needed the rest, and it wasn’t worth compromising.  

Kid sleeping
Kid sleeping

The same is true for bedtime. Many parents know that as you get close to a child’s bedtime he may begin to whine and cry because he’s tired. It’s important to stick to a sleep schedule that allows your child’s body to get the rest it needs. Ensuring your kids are well rested is one of the best ways to reduce the occurrence of tantrums and/or challenging behaviors.  

Consider what they eat

Consider what they’re consuming and when they’re consuming it. My kids eat healthy-ish. We definitely practice moderation in our home. My goal wasn’t to place strict rules around food, but rather to teach my kids about which foods benefit us the most and which ones don’t.

Eventually your kids will grow up and make their own decisions about food. You want them to make informed decisions, not ones rooted in shame or rigidity. Now that my kids are older, they’re able to independently identify which foods make them feel better and which ones they want to cut out.

For ideas on how to accomplish this, I highly recommend following Kelly LeVeque at https://kellyleveque.com. She is a holistic nutritionist, wellness expert, celebrity health coach, and best-selling author of two books, packed with science you can understand. She has courses centered around removing shame from our food choices and empowering ourselves with the information we need. 

The foods kids are eating affects them. This is where you’ll need to pay close attention to your children. Notice what their disposition is like after they eat a sugary treat, or if they consume highly processed foods. You may be able to pinpoint certain foods that have a negative effect on your kiddo. We know a lot of the foods targeted for children are unfortunately loaded with preservatives and food dyes. I’m not saying don’t let your kids have a treat, just consider modifying the frequency. Over time you will notice a difference once you start to eliminate certain foods. 

A sweet plate of fruits
A sweet plate of fruits

Also Consider when they eat — some kiddos get hangry. Schedule their meals and try to time it so they don’t reach the hangry state. When my kids started going to school full days, they came home starving. I wanted them to wait until dinner time. What resulted was excessive snacking — albeit healthy snacks — and they were filling up on other foods rather than their dinner.

I decided we would forgo eating as a family, and I would allow them to eat dinner at 4:30 p.m. This solved a multitude of problems: Excessive snacking was eliminated; they finished their dinner, which was always a nutritious and well-balanced meal; and we no longer argued about the need for more snacks, or hearing on repeat, I’m still hungry. Their disposition the rest of the evening was much better. No one was crabby! 

Even though we didn’t eat at the same time, we would always sit with each other when someone was eating and keep them company. When my kids ate, I would sit with them and ask them about their day. When my husband ate dinner, they would sit with him and do the same thing. Sometimes we have to let go of what seems “right” and be willing to pivot. 

Make time for free play

Free play, or open-ended play, means they’re playing on their own without being guided by an adult. This is becoming a lost art. Many parents tell me they feel guilty if they’re their child is playing on their own. This is an insecurity within you. There is this expectation that parents — mothers especially — have to be engaging their child constantly. Yet this does not benefit your children. 

Kids playing
Kids playing

Kiddos need the time to play on their own. It’s calming, it quiets their mind, it allows them to create, problem solve, think critically, practice curiosity, etc. I’m not saying you shouldn’t play with your children; you just want to make sure they’re given opportunities to play on their own. A different skill set is garnered when this happens. When you always play with your child, he will constantly rely on you to solve whatever problem comes up. This limits the opportunities for kids to think for themselves. It’s also important that they can entertain themselves and create their own fun. We want to foster independence and self-sufficiency. 

Don’t overschedule your kiddos

Somewhere along the way we’ve adopted the mentality that busy is best. People are cramming their days with activities, play dates, classes, etc. These are great things to do, but not all at once. Going back to the idea that a happy child is a well-rested child should be considered. When our schedules get too crammed we abandon things like, open-ended play, and we replace it with constant stimulation and activities. Whether we want to hear it or not, I know this is true: Boredom is a gift. I’m not saying constant boredom and disengagement, but plan for downtime. Children need it, even if they say, I’m bored. 

kids playing on the ocean

Read their cues and be willing to pivot

Not every child will need to adhere to the same schedule, bedtime, meals, etc. Pay close attention to what works for your child. Some children require more sleep than others. Some can eat a doughnut and not be affected, while others will crash and burn. Some children need more physical activities and play, while others prefer a quieter pace. Be willing to adjust or pivot based on their needs. 

When my children were younger they needed to go outside and play at least once a day. Michigan winters can be brutal, and truth be told, I hated playing outside when it was cold. I would bundle them up, open the back door, and off they went. Snow angels were formed, snowballs were thrown, snowmen were built — or attempted — and they would come inside soaking wet. Their cheeks were rosy, their smiles were wide, and the joy was palpable. Kids need fresh air every day. Nothing fancy. I didn’t go to the best park with the greatest play scape — I just opened the back door and said “enjoy!”

Photo of mountains with snow
Photo of mountains with snow

Healthy routines will have a positive impact on your kiddos. Consider what your routines look like and where you may be able to make adjustments. As Bev Bos said, “set them up for success.” Read part 3 of this 3-part series next, The ABC’s.


Hi, I'm Albiona!

I have over 20 years of experience working with children and families, first as an early childhood educator and currently as a pediatric speech and language pathologist. I’m also a mom of two amazing humans, a writer, and life long learner. My hope is to help parents reframe the way they interpret their child’s behavior while reflecting on their parenting journey.


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