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Toddler Tantrums

Temper tantrums usually start at around 18 months and are very common at that age. One in five two-year-olds has a temper tantrum every day.  One reason for this is that two-year-olds want to express themselves but find it difficult. They feel frustrated and the frustration comes out as a tantrum. Tantrums also spring from your child's growing desire for independence. Despite their rapidly developing abilities, they no doubt still want to do much more than they can handle physically and mentally. This frustrating incompetence will drive your two-year-old over the edge. When their frustration reaches a certain level, it explodes as a tantrum.

A quick solution may be to find out why the tantrum is happening. Your child may be tired or hungry, in which case the solution is simple. They could be feeling frustrated or jealous, maybe of another child. They may need time, attention and love, even though they’re not being very lovable!

Here are some top tips on handling tantrums:

Stay Calm
When your child starts screaming, kicking, or turning blue, just ignore the looks you get from people around you and concentrate on staying calm.  Your toddler has already lost control of himself; he needs you to stay in control.

Don’t Yell
You may feel tempted to return your toddler's screaming with some yelling of your own. But seeing your anger when they've already got enough of their own will no doubt drive your child even farther over the edge. Your own yelling will tend to prolong your child's tantrum, because it will set them off again and again.

Don’t Try to Reason
Don't bother trying to reason with your child while he's having a tantrum. No toddler can listen to reason while caught inside the whirlwind of a tantrum

Ignore the Tantrum (Time Out for Older Toddlers)
Unless your child is likely to hurt themself or others or break things, you should probably just ignore the tantrum until it goes away. If your presence seems to be aggravating your toddler's tantrum or you're getting angry and can't stand it any more, leave the room.

Although confusion and frustration still play a part in tantrums, as your toddler gets older, they need to learn their behaviour isn't acceptable, and to learn to control their rage and emotions a little better. At this point, time out is a good solution.  It involves a bit more exclusion, and so is generally a last resort, imposed when all reasonable requests have been stamped on and thrown across the room.

Some parents have a specific place for time out, such as the bottom stair or a quiet hallway, and some just sit the toddler down on a sofa, or in their bedroom. Essentially, time out has to be unrewarding and away from where all the fun stuff is happening.

Don’t Cause a Scene
Try to avoid long, drawnout scenes in which you beg, bribe, urge, or command your child to regain control of themself. If you allow the tantrum to become a big scene, you will be rewarding your child with "too much" attention. (Sometimes attracting even negative attention is better than no attention at all.) Creating a scene will not only prolong the tantrum, but it may provoke repeat performances in the near future. If, however, you deny your tantrum-torn toddler an audience, they will call off the performance as soon as they can.

Communicate Your Anger
When your child's comprehension improves, explain that their tantrum is making you angry (if you really are getting angry). Say that though you'd like to stay, you don't want to be in the same room when they're out of control and you're angry at them. Again, make it clear that you still love your child even when you're angry at them.

Get Silly / Distract Them
If you need to cut a tantrum short, try saying something silly to your child, making a ridiculous face at them, or even finding something to distract them with.  This tactic is best employed in the early stages of a tantrum, before the child is hysterical.  A particularly headstrong toddler will try to maintain their anger, but it won't be easy. Although your toddler may not want to let go of their anger yet, they can't laugh and have a tantrum at the same time.

Don’t Give In
Don't ever bribe your child or give in on the limit you've set just to quiet a tantrum. (Even if you realize that a limit you've set is unreasonable, hold your ground. You can always apologize later for your unreasonableness, but continue to be unreasonable for some time after the tantrum has ended.)

If you reward a tantrum, you will condition your child. Every time your toddler wants something, they'll throw a little fit. So don't buy your child the candy they wanted just because they make a little scene —or even a huge brouhaha. Instead, try to demonstrate that the tantrum has no effect on you whatsoever. It will not change your mind one little bit.

Don’t Punish Your Child
A tantrum should have no consequences, positive or negative. It happens and then it's over. Life goes on.

The reasoning behind this rule is simple: tantrums should be treated like speed bumps. You may slow down and ease over them for a second, but then you get right back up to speed. They have absolutely no lasting power over you.

Besides, if your child is out of control, then they're out of control. Is this really a punishable offense? Probably not. The tantrum itself is probably frightening and punishing enough to your child without having you add further punishment to it.

Be Safe
Never lock your toddler in a room either to discipline them or to calm a tantrum. Not only will this forced separation likely produce hysteria, but it also makes it impossible for your child to atone for their misbehavior: to come back to you and apologize.

What real mums say about tackling toddler tantrums:

  • When he hits you, say 'no' firmly and put him down for 60 seconds and ignore him. Do it consistently. It's a game to him. It's not violence, it's toddlerdom. He is just exploring and expressing his new-found independence.
  • Use more positive words like 'can we put the toys into the box please' or 'play nicely' rather than 'don't smack'. I know it all sounds a bit hippy but it does improve the atmosphere at home. You don't shout so much and things are a lot calmer once you have the hang of it.
  • Praise the good and ignore the bad. My daughter is only two and I have found that really giving lots of positive attention is the only thing that works.
  • We only use the step when our two year old does naughty things on purpose (like hitting or wilfully ignoring instructions). The idea is that it's supposed to teach her what's acceptable and what isn't, and it seems to work. We tend not to use it for the small stuff, only when she can understand that what she has done is really wrong.
  • The only thing that works with my toddler in a real screaming tantrum is sticking him in his cot for time out for a few minutes, then having a cuddle.
  • After several embarrassing 'do that again and we won't go on holiday/have Christmas/ever watch telly again' moments, I try to keep the consequence realistic and logical.

Avoiding Tantrums

You can try to prevent many tantrums, by organising your toddler's life so that frustration stays within the limits of their tolerance most of the time. It's always worth avoiding tantrums if you can do so without compromising your own limits, because they do no positive good to either of you. When you must force your child to do something unpleasant or forbid something they enjoy, do it as tactfully as you can. When you can see that they are getting angry or upset about something, try to make it easier for them to accept. Of course they must have their coat on if that's what you have said, but perhaps they needn't have the zipper done up yet? There is no virtue in challenging children with absolute "dos" and "don'ts" or in backing them into corners from which they can only explode in rage. Leave a dignified escape route.

Tantrums often happen in shops, which can be embarrassing. It is therefore important to keep shopping trips short. Start by going out to buy one or two things only, and build up from there. Involve your child in the shopping by talking about what you need and letting them help you.

If you dread tantrums in public places, try not to let your toddler sense your concern. If you are reluctant to take her into the shop in case they throw a tantrum for sweets, or if you treat them with saccharin sweetness whenever visitors are present in case ordinary handling should provoke an outburst, they will soon realise what is going on. Once your toddler realises that her genuinely uncontrollable tantrums are having an effect on your behaviour towards them, they are bound to learn to use them and to work themselves up into the semi-deliberate tantrums which are typical of inappropriately handled four-year-olds.

It is crucial when disciplining children that you are consistent and you follow through whatever consequence (or punishment) you threaten to carry out, even if this is likely to lead to a tantrum.

You can also try giving them lots of your time and attention when they're being good and behaving well, as a way of praising good behaviour and hopefully avoiding a tantrum.  Another suggestion is to have a star chart, perhaps with an achievable target for the week, and if that’s met, then a reward is issued (a small toy or book).

Another idea, which is employed by mums of older toddlers, is using the ‘Pasta Jar Method’, which is described below.  In a nutshell, pasta is earned for good behaviour and lost for bad behaviour.

  • Take a glass jar and put five pieces of pasta in it at the start of the week (or day). When they are naughty, you give them a warning.
  • If they persist then you take a piece of pasta out.
  • For good or compliant behaviour, you put a piece of pasta into the jar.
  • At the end of the week (or day), count up the pieces of pasta and when you have hit the 'target' (say ten pieces), you swap the pasta for a small pressie/pocket money/praise.
  • Edible currency (ie chocolate buttons) can be a variation for younger toddlers.

Outgrowing Tantrums

Your toddler will get bigger, stronger and more able to manage things better; that means that they will meet less extreme frustration in everyday life. They will get to know and understand more, too, so that their life contains fewer frightening novelties. As they become more fearless, they will stop needing quite so much reassurance from you. And gradually they will learn to talk freely not only about the things that they can see in front of them but about things they are thinking and imagining. Once they can talk in this way, they will sometimes be able to accept reassuring words in place of continual physical comfort. With the help of language hey will also learn to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Once they reach this point, they will at last be able to see both the unreality of most of their worst fears and the reasonableness of most of the demands and restrictions which you place on them.

They will turn into a reasonable and communicative human being. Just give them time!.


  • Tantrums are normal, natural and healthy. Small children throw them because they can’t help themselves!
  • It’s okay to feel upset and angry yourself when they happen. But it’s helpful if you can avoid showing your child those feelings.
  • Try the following tactics in this order when it comes to tackling them: avoid, distract, ignore, walk away. Keep calm, if you can. Get down to their eye level.
  • Don’t give in to their demands, or they’ll assume tantrums are acceptable.
  • Once they’re over, move on.

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