Tips For Surviving Toddler Tantrums


If there’s anything that might make parents regret having children, it’s tantrums. While tantrums are a normal part of child development and a natural response to anger, disappointment, frustration and a host of other strong emotions, they can be really hard to deal with, especially in a public place.

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we’ve dealt with lots of toddlers’ tantrums over the years and also lots of frazzled parents. To help everyone get through this difficult stage, we’ve come up with tips for preventing them, and when that’s not possible, ways to survive them.

Why toddlers have tantrums

Temper tantrums range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting and breath holding. They’re equally common in boys and girls, and usually occur between the ages of 1 and 3.

Lauren Adler_02R WEB72

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

Many toddlers have tantrums around the time of language development in the 2nd year of life. Before they can express themselves fully with words, tantrums can be a way for them to try to get what they need. Because toddlers can’t yet say what they want, feel or need, a frustrating experience may cause a tantrum, especially if they are tired or hungry. As language skills improve, tantrums tend to decrease. In addition, learning to deal with frustration is a skill that children gain over time.

Also, as you may have noticed with your youngster, toddlers want independence and control over their environment—more than they may be capable of handling. This can lead to power struggles as your child stubbornly believes “I can do it myself” or “I want it, therefore I should have it…now.” When kids discover that they can’t do it on their own and can’t have everything they want, a tantrum is often the result, like a volcano erupting.

Kids who are in danger of hurting themselves or others during a tantrum should be taken to a quiet, safe place to calm down. This also applies to tantrums in public places. Preschoolers and older kids are more likely to use tantrums to get their way if they’ve learned that this behavior works. Once kids have started school, it’s appropriate to send them to their rooms to cool off.

How to prevent tantrums before they start

Here are some parent-tested ways to nip potential tantrums in the bud before they spiral out of control.

1) Set fair, consistent and firm limits on your child’s behavior. “No” needs to mean “no.” When you say “no,” don’t change your mind and give in to your child’s demands. This confuses children and teaches them that “no” sometimes means “yes.”

2) Know what to expect from your child based on his/her age and abilities. Parents who expect too much often correct their child more than they need to, or ask the child to do things that he or she isn’t able to do. This increases the child’s frustration which can lead to tantrums.

3) Praise and thank your child when he/she behaves appropriately and does things you would expect from a child that age.

4) Allow your toddler to make simple choices for himself/herself. Lay out a few acceptable choices and then let your child choose what to eat or which clothes to wear. Being able to make their own choices reduces frustration and helps children develop self-confidence.

5) Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. With too little sleep, kids can become hyper, disagreeable and have extremes in behavior. Getting enough sleep can dramatically reduce tantrums. Find out how much sleep is needed at your child’s age and really try to make sure he/she is getting the proper amount.

6) Once your child calms down after a tantrum, listen to his/her reasons for getting so upset and together, talk about ways to avoid a similar meltdown in the future.

What to do when a tantrum can’t be avoided

Sometimes in spite of your best efforts, your little bundle of joy is going to throw a nasty scene and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. When that happens, here are 6 things you can do to at least survive it with your sanity intact.

1) Ignore the tantrum. Walk away. The more attention you give a tantrum, the more fuel you give it.

2) Redirect your child’s focus. Bring out a new toy or one that hasn’t been played with for awhile. Fix a snack. Start singing and clapping to a favorite song on a CD the radio. Go outdoors.

3) Choose your battles and compromise when you can. Sometimes you have to give in to your child’s wishes a little. Just don’t make this a habit; otherwise the tantrums could become regular occurrences.

4) Know your child’s limits. When your hungry is over-hungry, over-tired and/or over-stimulated, it’s a recipe for a tantrum.

5) Never allow hitting, kicking, biting, screaming or throwing things. You must have a zero-tolerance policy for these types of out-of-control behaviors.

6) Plan ahead, and be ready to change those plans when need be. If tantrums tend to happen when your toddler is hungry, stock up on snacks before leaving home. If tantrums are more likely when your child is tired, build in more nap time during the day or sleep time at night.

The good news

Tantrums generally stop on their own as your child grows and develops. As kids mature, they gain self-control and learn to cooperate, communicate and cope with frustration. And less frustration and more control mean fewer tantrums—and happier parents.

If you’re having a hard time with your toddler’s tantrums, please come see us

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we understand the many challenges of raising a toddler and how exhausting tantrums can be for everyone involved. Please come in and talk with us if you’re concerned about your child’s behavior, have questions or would like some advice and guidance. Together, we will find solutions so that you, your child and your family can enjoy these years together. Our #1 goal is to help you raise a happy, healthy toddler and for you to feel confident as a parent. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, Lead Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball