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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