These are all methods I use to stop a tantrum. I don't do each one each time and I don't do any special order. You kind of have to feel it out and go with what you think seems best at the moment. You will find some methods are more effective for different children or different ages.
1-Lighten the Mood
My most common thing to do when I have a little one starting a fit is to lighten the mood. I tickle. I joke. I get them laughing. You don't have to respond to tantrums with a firm, stern face. What you don't want to do is give in to the tantrum. So say your child starts throwing a fit because she wants to watch TV and you have told her no. You might start tickling her to get her to "turn that frown upside down," but you still don't turn the TV on. The rule stays, the attitude changes.
Mimicing seems to work best for the older toddler on into preschooler age range. Sometimes younger toddlers will stop with mimicing, too. Your child starts that fit and you join right in (though I don't think I ever match the magnitude). This is an extension of my suggestion to lighten the mood. Watching an adult throw a tantrum is quite entertaining. Then the child sees how silly it looks and usually goes from mid-cry to laughter.
3-Independent Play Time
Sometimes a child just needs to be alone. If your child is having a super grumpy day, do an extra session of Independent Play. Or make sure to get your one session in there. I often find if Brinley is having a grumpy morning, she will come out of Independent Play quite pleasant.
4-Remain Calm and Basically Remain Unimpressed
As your child throws a tantrum, continue on with your business. If you weren't doing anything, find something to do. Wipe the counter off if you can think of nothing else. Fluff some pillows. Continue on as though that tantrum isn't phasing you in the least. Your child often wants some sort of reaction from you. If you react with some strong emotion, your child will feel a bit vindicated.
Sometimes you child needs you to pick her up and hold her and empathize. "I know you really wanted to watch a show. You can't right now, but I know you are disappointed about it."
Redirection can work for any age. Young toddlers can be physically moved to a better location or activity. Toddlers and young preschoolers can be directed to new activities. Preschoolers and children can be given a list of other options to choose from. As your child gets older, you can encourage personal problem solving by helping your child brainstorm what to do. "No, you cannot watch a show right now. Can you think of a different activity you could do instead?" (and if they try to pull the "nothing" thing, see this post: Discipline Phrase: "Just Sit and Be Bored")
See Substitution: Toddlerwise for more on redirection.
7-Tell Your Child To Stop
Sometimes, even admist all of these awesome tools I just listed, your child will carry on with the tantrum. At that point, I tell the child it isn't okay. It is okay to be sad or disappointed, but it isn't okay to carry on and throw a tantrum. If the child wants to continue throwing a tantrum, it will have to be done on his or her bed.
The next time you encounter a tantrum, try some of these methods out. Always remember to remain calm--that is your best tool ever.
For more posts on discipline, see: