Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Toddler Temper Tantrums

I get asked this question all of the time, what do I do about toddler temper tantrums? One thing to be sure of, these tantrum usually pass with age. I say usually because they will not go away if they are rewarded. The first thing about a temper tantrum is to understand the root cause, it is generally not caused by the obvious trigger. Children are generally not throwing a temper tantrum because they are truly sad or angry they are not getting their way. Usually he or she is tired, hungry, overstimulated, bored, or any other host of reasons that cause this behavior. However, and this is important, just because the underlying reason is primarily not the child's fault, you still can never give in. If you are at home the best solution is to, in a gentle voice, tell your child "I understand that you are unhappy, but I will talk to you about this when you have calmed down." And then walk away and ignore the tantrum. Of course make sure the area is clear of hazards if your child is a flailing sort of tantrummer. When he or she calms down, return and say "Thank you for calming down, now we can talk." And discuss your reasons. Even a very young child can be reasoned with, or at the very least understand a gentle voice. Sometimes explaining a reason causes the tantrum to begin again, in which case you repeat the process. Then, as soon as you can, try to relieve the root cause of the problem, a nap or bed, a snack or meal, some quiet time or rocking, an activity to occupy, etc.

You should try to avoid making going to bed, even if the child is tired, seem like a punishment for a tantrum. This is sometimes difficult, especially when you know that is what is really needed. In this case, try to follow the tantrum with a linking activity to sleep like rocking or reading a bedtime story. If sleep is made to seem like a punishment for a behavior, regular naps and bedtimes may become difficult.

For public temper tantrum, which are of course much more embarrassing for the parents, try to remove the child from the situation as quickly as you can. Going back to the car, a restroom, a quiet area away from people all work. Then, follow the same protocol as when home. Decide if they should return to the activity, or if he or she really just needs to go home. Even if something wonderful is to be missed, sometimes this is the best option.

The main keys to are to avoid giving the tantrum attention and to at all costs not ever give the child what they are throwing the tantrum for. The biggest mistake I see parents make is to give the child what they want after calming down. So, in the child's mind "I throw a tantrum, I calm down, I get what I want." It is actually a very logical progression on their part. Once the child sees that the tantrums do not work and have the verbage and ability to control their emotions, the tantrums will end. Light at the end of the toddler tunnel.


  1. Thanks for the wonderful words. I distinctly remember my son laying in the middle of the mall, face down, screaming his head off. My Mom sat on the bench across from him, and I literally walked away. She said "Don't you worry about anyone taking him"? To which I replied, "You are right there with him, and I don't think anyone would want him at this point". When I picked him up to move him to a quiet location, he could be heard screaming at the top of his lungs "MOMMY.... DON'T BEAT ME.... DON'T BEAT ME MOMMY"!! It was the funniest, most embarrassing moment ever.

  2. Oh no! My two really memorable ones were when she did it in the checkout line at a grocery store when we had a cartful of stuff that we really needed. She also had a huge one at the zoo so I sat her on a bench and I went and sat on the bench behind her until she stopped crying. I could see her totally, but everyone kept stopping by to check on her and I would say I'm right here and then they would in turn shoot me dirty looks for letting my child cry (accept the other mothers, I got been there sympathy looks from them). Love the embarrassment having a child sometimes causes!

  3. very wise Tammy. great to see you last week. Laura

  4. Tammy, you have hit the nail on the head. Great advice! This is a great foundation to preventing Toddler Temper Tantrums.

  5. If you don't know how to deal with your toddlers tantrums, Tantrum Toddlers Researcher can help you...