Toddler tantrums

Rise above the tantrums. They won’t last forever. Here’s how to stay cool and feel in control.

If there’s one thing toddlers do well, it’s throwing a tantrum.

The peak time for tantrums is around 2 years old. With good management they will usually begin to fade by 3, and by the age of 4 most toddlers have worked out that there are better ways to get what they want.

A full-on temper tantrum is tough for you and frightening for your child. The good news is that a few simple strategies will prevent or contain most of your child’s tantrums.

Why tantrums happen

Tantrums express the frustrations of being a toddler. At this age, children are learning to do many things, from talking to controlling their bodily functions. They want to do so much, but are often held back by their capabilities. At the same time, they’re grappling with the rules of the world – and the fact that some things are not allowed.

Because your little one can’t tell you what they’re feeling inside, they end up screaming and throwing themselves around. But although a toddler in the throes of a tantrum can seem all-powerful, they may be scared by the intensity of their rage. However helpless you may feel, you are the one in charge and need to do everything possible to get that message across.

Tantrum control

Try to prevent tantrums by giving praise. Your time and attention are the most important things to your child, so if they learn to get lots of it by throwing a tantrum, they’ll continue down that path. Instead, reinforce good behaviour whenever you see it by giving them praise and cuddles and kisses.

Spotting the early warning signs of a tantrum is the key to stopping them spiralling out of control. Try to become aware of triggers such as tiredness, hunger, excess heat or cold and, where possible, try to avoid situations that you know are likely to spark an outburst, such as supermarket checkouts and busy shopping centres.

Distract your child if you see them gearing up for a tantrum. Sing a funny song, suggest they help to look for a toy or take them to another room – anything that shifts their attention.

Giving them a choice over some aspects of their life can help stop tension building up. You could allow them to make certain decisions, such as what shoes to wear or whether to brush their teeth before or after their bath. If they make choices that aren’t important they feel they have some input, without you losing your authority.

Think about what supports might help you at this time. Some parents feel that talking to other parents with children of a similar age can be reassuring. While they might not have any answers, just talking things through can be really helpful. A parent and toddler group can be a great place to meet other parents to chat with.

Things to remember

  • Praise your child when you see them doing something well.
  • Be clear and calm about what you expect.
  • Don’t be embarrassed – tantrums happen to the best parents.
  • Stay firm and ignore the behaviour. Don’t argue or reason.
  • Make sure your child is safe. Once the tantrum is in retreat, reassure your child and carry on with what you were doing before.
Last updated: 9 April 2019