How to Tackle Temper Tantrums in Toddlers

Even the best-behaved toddler has an occasional temper tantrum. A tantrum can range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting, and breath-holding. They’re equally common in boys and girls and usually occur from age 1 to age 3. Some children may experience regular tantrums, whereas, for other children, tantrums may be rare. Some kids are more prone to throwing a temper tantrum than others.

temper tantrums in toddlersToddlers are trying to master the world and when they aren’t able to accomplish a task, they often use one of the only tools at their disposal for venting frustration – a tantrum. There are several basic causes of tantrums that are familiar to parents everywhere: The child is seeking attention or is tired, hungry, or uncomfortable. Also, tantrums are often the result of children’s frustration with the world. Frustration is an unavoidable part of kids’ lives as they learn how people, objects, and how their bodies work.

Tantrums are common during the second year of life, a time when children are acquiring language. Toddlers generally understand more than they can express. As language skills improve, tantrums tend to decrease.

  • Keep off-limits objects out of sight and out of reach, which will make struggles less likely to develop over them.
  • Distract your child.
  • Take advantage of your little one’s short attention span by offering a replacement for the coveted object or beginning a new activity to replace the frustrating or forbidden one.
  • And choose your battles: consider the request carefully when your child wants something. Is it outrageous? Maybe it isn’t. Accommodate when possible to avoid an outburst.
  • Make sure your child isn’t acting up simply because he or she isn’t getting enough attention. To a child, negative attention (a parent’s response to a tantrum) is better than no attention at all.
  • Try to establish a habit of catching your child being good (“time in”), which means rewarding your little one with attention and praise for positive behavior. This will teach them that acting appropriately makes mommy and daddy happy and proud, and they’ll be anxious to do it again and again.

Below are tips for tackling tantrums:

What are Children getting out of this behavior?

temper tantrums in toddlers

First make sure that you are not rewarding this type of behavior, positively or negatively because both will help keep it alive. If you eventually give in to this behavior by changing your initial decision (not letting them go out to play or refusing them a cookie), the child has learned that tantrums work. Hence, when they want their way. they may think, “ a good tantrum just may get me that candy bar, it got me out of bedtime last night.” Negative attention (yelling, threatening, ridicule, spanking) seldom changes the behavior. Getting you upset may be just as rewarding as giving in to their demands. So again, make sure you are not unintentionally rewarding your child for this behavior.

Be proactive.

Think of the situations that invite your child’s meltdowns and head them off before they happen. Do questions that require a yes or no answer provoke a tantrum? Instead of “Do you want peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch?” try “It is time for lunch. Would you like PB&J or macaroni and cheese?” Advance notice may help as well. “We will be leaving Grandma’s in ten minutes. Get everything you want to take care of completed before we go.” [Tweet “Are children more likely to throw a tantrum when they are tired? Then you may want to provide an opportunity for them to take a nap.”]

The consequence of previous fits

Be sure to tie the consequence back to the misbehavior. “Remember the last time we went to the store and you threw a fit because I wouldn’t let you have that Power Ranger? Remember how you kept putting it in the cart and screaming that you wanted it? Well, I am going shopping but you won’t be going with me. I just don’t feel like dealing with that kind of behavior today. Mrs. Hamblin is here to watch you until I get back. Try to make the best of it. Love ya, bye.”

Move your child to a different location.

temper tantrums in toddlers

The key is for you to model taking care of yourself. Your ears hurt when you hear your child’s screaming. You may not be able to control whether or not they have a tantrum, but you can control where they do it. “Tantrums are for the bedroom. Let’s go.” You may want to give them a choice. “Where do you want to be until you can get that under control, the bathroom, or the laundry room? Come on out when there is no more crying and screaming.”

Notice the exceptions.

Point out the times when they may have thrown a tantrum but did not. “I appreciate how you came in the house when I asked without throwing a “fit”. You should feel good about being able to do that.”

Give the behavior a name.

This will help externalize the problem, which is to say, it separates the person from the problem. It helps children and the family view the behavior as the problem and not them (the problem is the problem). For example, you could call your child’s tantrums the “uglies”. This can help put you and your child on the same side in the battle against the “uglies”. Questions like “can you think of a time when you have beat the “uglies”? How did you do it? or how do you know when the “uglies” are coming? What can you do to stop them?”, your child may enjoy the imagery of conquering the “uglies” and this can give him or her a sense of control over the behavior.

Acknowledge his feelings.

This aligns your child and sets the stage for them to begin to work through their problems.

Child: “Dad, can I get this Power Ranger?”

Dad: “No, I am not buying toys today.”

Child: Eyebrows coming closer together and lip starting to pucker. “But it is the last one I need and I will have them all.”

Dad: “Not today”

Child: Screaming and crying. “You never get me anything I ask for. You don’t love me.”

Dad: Acknowledging his child’s feelings. “You must feel sad about not being able to get the Power Ranger. I know I sometimes feel bad when I can’t get what I want.”

Child: Sniffling. “Yea, I really want it.”

Dad: “Tell you what. (Taking pen and paper out of planner) I will write this down as “things you want”.”

Child: “Okay Dad.”

You can later use this list for surprises or gifts for special occasions.

Tell your child what you are going to do.


“I’ll come back downstairs when you get that under control” or “I will be happy to talk to you when you are not crying and your voice is soft like mine.”

Ignore the tantrum.

If you have the willpower to outright ignore the behavior you must remember that it may get worse before it gets better. That is, when your child’s behavior doesn’t produce the desired results, he may turn it up a notch to see if a higher intensity level gets a response. Be careful. If you give in and respond to the higher level or longer duration, your child learns that is how intense or how long he needs to throw tantrum from now on to receive attention.

Direct your child toward a different way of expressing how he feels.

“Here is some paper and crayons. How about drawing how you are feeling right now.” This is a positive, less annoying way of communicating how he feels.

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