Toddler Tantrums


If you have a child who has not had a tantrum yet, please do not kid yourself. The day will come; your child will have a tantrum. “The propensity of throwing temper tantrums is a normal phase of development” (On Becoming Toddlerwise page 160).

As with many things, “normal” does not equate to “acceptable.” As your child comes to recognize the emotions of frustration, disappointment, and anger, tantrums are a natural and normal thing for the child to do. But this is the moment to step in and teach your child how to appropriately handle the tantrum.

Toddlerwise states, “A temper tantrum, whether thrown by a child or an adult is a coping mechanism occurring because an individual has not learned how to correctly manage disappointment” (page 160). I love that quote, especially the “or an adult” part. Yes, adults have their versions of tantrums too–some even look a lot like a toddler’s. I think an important take-away from that knowledge is your child will not just “outgrow” tantrums some day. Do your child a favor and teach him how to handle his emotions.

I think it is important for us as parents to realize that tantrums are normal. It helps us feel like less of a failure. No matter how “perfectly” you parent, there will be tantrums. If you have the right perspective, you can let it roll off your back and seize it as a teaching moment rather than looking at it as a big red F on your parenting report card.

Yes, you can handle tantrums the wrong way and contribute to stronger and frequent tantrums in your future. But you are reading this, so you obviously desire to avoid that. Give yourself a lovely A on your parenting report card. Now, let’s talk some strategies as outlined in Toddlerwise for handling tantrums.

Look For Patterns

Patterns are so important to take note of in life. Watch for patterns to the tantrums. When do they happen? Only in public? Right before a meal? When your child is late for a nap?

Once you recognize the pattern, you can help avoid the tantrums in the future. If your child throws tantrums when she is hungry, then you know to make sure you don’t let her get to that point of hunger. You also know that when you are out and about, having a snack handy is a good idea.

Don’t Reason

Don’t try to talk your child out of the tantrum. One big reason for tantrums is your attention–and your child doesn’t care if the attentions is positive or negative. Attention is the big payoff. “To work effectively, a tantrum needs a sympathetic audience” (page 160).

This means you need to give your child no attention during a tantrum. I remember Kaitlyn’s first (and I believe last) public tantrum sometime as an almost two year old. We were in the store. She wanted to do something or not do something involving the shopping cart and I said no or yes…the trigger is fuzzy to me. Kaitlyn carefully put herself on the floor, then proceeded with the tantrum. It was really funny in reality. We were right by the entrance. I stepped back about 10 feet and looked around the store. Once she realized I wasn’t buying it, she stopped and we went about our day.

Yes, I got a couple of those judgmental looks from people saying “Can’t you control your child?” But it wasn’t about me or my pride. It was about teaching Kaitlyn something, and I did. And after a minute, my child was very controlled with no desire to try that again. It was no fun.

Use Isolation

This is something I use most often for the tantrum at home. You have to remain calm and nonchalant about it. “You are welcome to throw your fit if you would like to, but you don’t get to do it around the family. You need to go to your room until you are done with your fit.” Again, the goal of the tantrum is attention, so removing the attention encourages your child to deal with the emotions in ways other than a fit.

Hold Tightly

You might sometimes find yourself in a situation where leaving the child alone doesn’t work and allowing a tantrum on the ground is inappropriate. This is the moment to hold the child in your lap until the tantrum is done.

This is a technique I use at church. If the child is not behaving, we leave the chapel. We find a quiet spot in the church where we can hopefully be alone, or at least without a lot of people around. I then hold the child on my lap until she is done with her fit. I can feel her body relax. Once she is calm, we go back into the chapel.

Don’t Say “Okay?”

I once worked at a daycare, and this was something that was highly stressed there. Adding “okay?” to the end of your statement is opening the door for your child to disagree. “Don’t touch the plant, okay?” If keeping hands off the plant is not okay with your child, then you are inviting a tantrum.

This is the time to say “Say Yes Mommy?” “Don’t touch the plant, say ‘yes, mommy.’ ”

Teach Delayed Gratification

This is the clincher. Patience is a great thing to teach your child to not throw tantrums. And guess what? Babywise has done this from the beginning. We don’t give our child whatever she wants whenever she wants. We have lots of things to help the child learn patience, including indpendent playtime.

My two year old McKenna understands what “in a few minutes means.” She also trusts me. So I say, “You can have a snack in a few minutes.” And she chills out and says “okay.” She knows I am good for my word because I always have been. I have always been predictable for her. She also knows how to wait a few minutes because we have done things that have taught her to work through things she might not have wanted to do. It doesn’t mean she is perfectly patient, but for a two year old, she is good.


Even with this teaching, however, a child will be likely to have a tantrum if hungry or tired. Always be aware of that and be patient with it. Sometimes a tantrum when tired really just needs mom to pick the child up,hug the child, and say, “I know you are tired. It’s okay sweetie. Shhh” gently. That is okay. Have compassion and patience, especially because if your child is hungry or tired, it is because you allowed your child to get there. Sometimes that happens; that is life. But you created the situation and a toddler is just not emotionally mature enough to control emotions with hunger and fatigue involved (many adults are not). Sometimes Mom or Dad’s hugs and cuddles are enough to feed the child until real food can be provided.

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8 thoughts on “Toddler Tantrums”

  1. Tantrums have become an all-too- familiar occurrence with our 2 1/2- year-old the last month. A few weeks ago, what started out as a nice afternoon outing to Starbucks with my kids turned into a full- blown public tantrum. We started heading out of Starbucks when I heard it – that loud shriek that seems to have become almost "normal" in our home. Picture this: a nice woman holding the door open for my family and my son on the floor, blocking the doorway screaming because HE wanted to open the door. I asked my son nicely, but firmly, to get up. He naturally screamed louder and by then I was certain everyone was looking at me and my son, thinking I must be crazy because I couldn't control my kid. After asking him again and getting the same response, I finally just scooped him up in one arm, pushed the stroller out the door as he screamed at the top of his lungs.We sat outside and after a few minutes, he calmed down. I was embarrassed, but I tried to remind myself to ignore the stares from people and that my son’s tantrums are nobody’s business but mine. I have a 1-month-old baby and my 2 1/2-year-old son has had a hard time with the transition. I imagine that we'll be dealing with tantrums for some time… Oh boy, I’ll need lots of reassurance that I’m still a good parent! Thanks for the helpful tips! I'll be keeping them in mind as I continue to deal with toddler tantrums!

  2. Thank you for sharing this! My son is 19 months old and is starting to exhibit signs of tantrums. This was a great read right now.

  3. i literally just finished bawling my head off regarding tantrums so i'm so glad i went to your blog to find your take on it. the lord blessed me with this post right now! of course i had just re-read toddlerwise a few days ago but still reading it from your perspective helps.i am a good mommy. i am the most "hardcore" mom i know and i work SO hard to follow babywise in all areas. my son turned 2 in march and at this point i'm dealing with DAILY tantrums. i am at a loss as i have tried everything toddlerwise suggests and no longer know how to handle them. we will put him in his room and ignore him but what do you do when he misbehaves while in his room? he will slam the door repeatedly and even ASK for a spanking. he will come out of the room and throw things (today he broke his piggy bank doing this) and he will also come out of his room and walk up to me and hit me. I cannot ignore these actions but by disciplining him for them i'm giving him the attention he desires from the fit. i'm at a total loss and for the first time i told my husband today i feel like i just want to call it quits and go to work! it's just SO difficult for me to handle it b/c i take it 100% personally. I am the parent. I am training him so something I'm doing is causing this. and it's frustrating b/c he has always been a poster babywise child and with this issue he isn't anymore. i'll put it out on the google group and see if anyone has any suggestions but if nothing else please say a prayer for me during this time. i know it's a phase that will someday pass and it makes me miss that 45 min intruder!!! sometimes we don't know how good we have it huh? 🙂 thank you again for the wonderful post!~Emily

  4. oh ps: these are not 5-15 min tantrums…I'm talking an HOUR. I spent 45 min in the hobby lobby bathroom with him yesterday throwing one and spent over an hour today dealing with it at home. both situations ended only when a third party happened to come in the room which distracted him i guess (today it was daddy…yesterday it was the lord sending me an angel in the hobby lobby bathroom)!!!

  5. Emily,Your son and McKenna are the same age, and if it makes you feel any better, the time you wrote your question is the time frame McKenna was in major battle with me, too :)One thing to know is if he is asking for the discipline, then the methods you are choosing are not the right methods for him. There are tons of ways to do things out there, so keep trying different things until you find what works for him (but give each thing enough time to really try it).Make sure you read my post tomorrow because I had some insight into McKenna and things have been MUCH easier since.Also, don't take it personally. He is a toddler. There might be things you are doing or aren't doing, but it isn't because you are lazy or a bad mom. It is because you are human and can't be perfect all of the time. Just keep pushing through and you will get it figured out. He isn't doing the tantrums to be mean to you or make you feel bad–he is still in an age that is very self-centered, in that he doesn't have capacity for true empathy. He is doing what he thinks will further himself in his wishes. Try focusing on distraction as your first defense since that works for him. Distract first. Good luck!

  6. Hi! I was wondering if you had any posts on 18 month olds ,Or around that age and sleep. My son is wakingvery early and we have ruled out the sun, etc,I'm just curious about how much sleep theyNeed at this age. Thanks !Ashley

  7. Ashley, look under the sleep problems index–a lot of the posts apply to multiple ages. At that age, he still needs 10-12 hours at night. If he still has two naps a day, he might need to go to one. If you recently went to one, he might not be getting enough day sleep and needs to go to bed a little early. Good luck!


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