sensational kids

Helping Kids Through Tantrums


Helping Children Through Tantrums In the Moment

Parents often ask what can be done when their sensitive child is having a full-blown tantrum.  I have worked with many wonderful families who implement sensory diets, use visual schedules, and write social stories to try to cover all bases.  Yet…life happens, unexpected events abound, and kids tantrum.

Dr. Lucy Jane Miller has provided a wealth of information about sensory processing disorders through relentless research and advocacy.  She is committed to educating parents so they can practice clinical reasoning in their own unique situations.  In her book, Sensational Kids, Dr. Miller offers these respectful words:  “One of the desires nearly all parents voice for therapy is for strategies to improve daily life with their sensational kids.  A toolbox of techniques for specific priorities is indispensable, but parents also need broader strategies to help them address sensory and behavioral issues that can be variable, contradictory, and baffling.”

Dr. Miller created the acronym, A SECRET, to provide parents a way to remember and implement the fundamentals of clinical reasoning in their everyday lives.  Families need a flexible way of considering their child’s personality, temperament, needs, and context in order to find effective ways to manage melt downs.

A SECRET includes seven elements.  The first three elements are individual characteristics that influence the child internally.  The last four elements are contextual and influence the child externally.  This is an elastic strategy that can be used with children of any age.  When your child tantrums, ask yourself the following questions:



Attention Is there a way I can draw my child’s attention away from his anxiety?
Sensation Is there a sensation that is alarming my child right now?  If so, what is it and can it be modified?  Can I use another sensation to override the alarming one?
Emotion What emotion is my child experiencing and what techniques do I know that work best when he feels this way?
Culture What part of the culture of this activity can be changed to avoid situations like this in the future?
Relationship Is there something in my child’s relationship with me or someone else right now that is causing him to act a certain way?  What can I do about it?
Environment What in the environment is setting my child off?  How can I change it?
Task What is troubling my child about the task at hand?  How can the task be modified so that it is not so problematic for my child?


If your child is currently treated by an occupational therapist, discussions with that clinician will help you better understand and use A SECRET in your everyday lives.


Jill Perry MHA MS, OTR/L


Miller, Lucy Jane. 2006. Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). G.P. Putnam’s Sons. New York, New York.


Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation: 

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