Simple Strategies for Taming Tantrums

February 7, 2019, Author: Tamra Cater

Toddlers are at a time in their life when they experience big emotions, but they do not yet know how to manage them. This comes with time, experience, and support/guidance from others. And sometimes, the causes of tantrums may seem ridiculous to us. For example, my daughter had a full blown tantrum, because Rubble, the dog from Paw Patrol, was yellow and not some other color. However, we should still be careful to not dismiss their feelings when handling tantrums, because they are very real to them.

What Causes Tantrums?

Toddlers are at an age where it can be difficult for them to communicate what their needs are when things do not go their way. Tantrums can be triggered for a number of reasons such as being hungry, being tried (a very common cause in my daughter!), being overstimulated, or needing more independence. My daughter had a tantrum over a need for independence when I tried to help her take her socks off. She started screaming, and then took the socks and put them half way on her foot and then took them back off.

How are Tantrums Expressed?

Tantrums can be expressed in a number of ways such as crying, flailing of arms, bending of the back, throwing things, and even some aggression such as scratching or hitting.


How Do we Handle Tantrums?

1.Prevent them from starting

Young children thrive on predictability and may become upset if their routine changes. So, it is often helpful to keep routines and schedules consistent. If, there needs to be a disruption or change in that routine, discuss this with the child.

Also, be aware of your child’s habits and emotional states. If you know that you are going somewhere, and it may be sometime before you get back home for lunch, be sure to bring a snack. This may help prevent a tantrum from being hungry. Also, my child tends to get bored if we are sitting for long periods of time and may get upset when she can’t get up and go. In order to prevent a tantrum from this, I often bring a toy or a book with me to help keep her occupied.

It’s also helpful to avoid triggers. For example, my daughter loves chocolate chip cookies. When she wants them and can’t have them, she does have a tantrum. So, if I know I can’t get her cookies that day in the store, I completely avoid that section.

2.Reasoning with a tantrum will not work

Tantrums can happen at times even when we do our best to prevent them. When your child is upset and in the midst of a tantrum, logic and explanation will not work. The emotions they are experiencing are coming from the lower part of the brain or parts that are responsible for emotion. Thus, the parts of the brain that are responsible for logic won’t be receptive to any outside explanation.

As quoted from a mother of several children when asked how she handles tantrums:

“You can reason with a child throwing a fit, but a temper tantrum is different and out of control. You can’t reason with a temper tantrum. Left alone with a tantrum, and they’ll hurt themselves or someone else.”

I find the same thing happens when I try to reason with my daughter in the midst of a temper tantrum. It doesn’t work if I try to explain something or use logic. In fact, giving a lot of verbal and physical attention may sometimes lengthen the tantrum. If your child rebuffs you, stay close by and let the emotional storm pass.

3.Steps to Take

  • Find your calm. Step away if you can and breathe for a minute, so you can better approach the situation and provide support and guidance.
  • Tell your child that you understand how they feel. For example, if I know my child is angry because we have to leave the playground, I tell her, “I know you are angry, because we have to leave. I know how fun the playground is, and we will definitely come back another time.” Labeling emotions can help her understand what’s happening and why.. Also, if you can understand what your child needs and provide it to them, the tantrum may end. However, if the child is in the middle of a full blown tantrum, they may not hear you.
  • Comfort and reassure. It may help to give physical reassurance such as a hug or rubbing their back. Singing can also help. However, if your child pushes you away, still stay close by.
  • Wait: Give your child time to release those emotions. If you are in public, it may be helpful to take your child to a private, safe space. Eventually, the emotions will subside.
  • With older children (2-3 years of age), once the tantrum subsides, you can suggest that you both come up with a solution together or offer choices to help handle the issue.

4.Recover from a Tantrum

  • When the tantrum is over, reconnect and move on. You may be able to also “distract and redirect.”

As quoted from a mother of 2 children when asked how she handles tantrums:

“Create a distraction with something they like such as a stuffed animal or cartoon. Get the family involved in something fun, the little one usually wants to get involved…”

Tantrums happen, and sometimes, the duration of tantrums can be quite long and exhausting. Be consistent in your methods, and just be you. Be there for them and provide your love and guidance.

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Hargis, A. (2018). Toddler discipline for every age and stage: Effective strategies to tame tantrums, overcome challenges, and help your child grow. Rockridge Press: Emeryville, CA.

Melissa and Doug