8 tips for handling adult temper tantrums

8 tips for handling adult temper tantrums
Don't let this woman scream at you. Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Every so often we all lose our tempers. For whatever reason, we've had enough of being the bug smashed on the windshield of life and try as we might, we blow up. And every so often, we're on the receiving end of someone else losing their stuff and exploding uncontrollably.

If we're not careful, when someone explodes at us, we can get sucked into their drama and escalate the situation by yelling back. That is probably the worst thing we can do because it validates their behavior; their tantrum gets our attention, so they continue to have tantrums. The goals when faced with someone in meltdown mode are to avoid making the situation worse and to deescalate it.

I've found that when I'm on the receiving end of someone's meltdown, I can usually disarm the situation by taking the following steps:

  1. Speak softly. Yes, this is an old trick that we're all taught for dealing with children, but it works on adults too. When I'm speaking softly to someone who is verbally puking on me, it's like letting the helium out of a balloon and they quickly come back to earth. No one will hear me if I'm screaming back at them, but if I'm speaking softly or at my normal volume, they have to stop shouting in order to hear what I've said.
  2. Maintain my normal cadence. The person screaming at me may be carrying on at 100 mph, but as long as I continue to speak at my normal pace and resist the urge speak faster, the situation deescalates.
  3. Ask questions and help the other person problem solve. What is the person really upset about? It often doesn't have anything to do with me. Whatever I did (or they think I did) may have simply been the straw that broke the camel's back. I'm not going to tell someone what to do, but I'll ask open-ended questions and offer a few suggestions of how the situation might be resolved.
  4. Take a few deep breaths before speaking. This sounds silly, but when I stop and breathe deeply through my nose rather than my mouth, I find that I'm able to maintain my composure. It's also a little disarming to the other person because they're essentially watching me meditate and no one expects such opposite behavior in an emotionally heated situation.
  5. Respect myself and my boundaries. People can be upset and scream all they want, but I don't have to let them dump all that toxic energy onto me. I have said to people that they can be upset, but they still need to be respectful. That leads me directly to . . .
  6. I put myself into time out. Obviously, I can't put another adult into time out, but I don't have to stick around for their tantrum. As part of respecting myself and my boundaries, I've said that I need to walk away and would be happy to discuss the matter at a later time when everyone is calm. And then I walk away. (Bonus tip: This also works well if I feel like I could lose my temper.)
  7. Avoid triggers. This is complicated and really only applies when dealing with people who have known anger management issues. For example, if someone always loses their temper when they drink, I avoid having cocktails with them or serving them alcohol. It's complicated though because if it's obvious that I'm avoiding a specific situation, that can set someone off, as well.
  8. Explain why the meltdown upsets me. This cannot be done in the moment. I cannot emphasize this enough. When someone is in the middle of losing their temper, do not ever attempt to explain how their inappropriate behavior impacts you. I'll usually do this a day or so later and in person, when possible.

Want more information about helping someone with a short fuse? There are some great resources here and here.

What are your best tips for handling adult temper tantrums?


Tonight's post was brought to you by the monthly ChicagoNow Blogapalooza in which all ChicagoNow bloggers wrote about the same topic for an hour and then hit publish. Community Manager Jimmy Greenfield gave us the following prompt:

Hey all,

Welcome to ChicagoNow's Blogapalooz-Hour!

Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to publish a post in one hour. Here is tonight's challenge:

"Write about a time you lost your temper or somebody lost their temper at you"

The point of this exercise is to do it no matter what so don’t bail. Be creative, enjoy the process. Use words, images or video. Whatever you need to tell your story.

Be aware of the time. No matter when you finish, please wait until 10 p.m. to publish. Above all, please respect the deadline.

You have one hour.


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