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Inside: How to deal with toddler tantrums like a pro? We will go over what is normal toddler tantrum behaviour, when to worry about temper tantrums, effective strategies for diffusing tantrums at home and in public.
Tantrums are without a doubt, one of THE MOST frustrating things as a parent to a young child.
Whether you are dealing with 2-year old tantrums, 3-year old tantrums, or 5-year old tantrums (or all of the above) the
Our little angels will kick, yell, scream, lunge themselves on the ground, wail, stomp, slam doors, and much more.
“What did I do to deserve this?” You cry throwing your own little adult tantrum.
Your toddler or preschooler isn’t listening to you. Because when our little ones are in the throes of these intense emotions, they can’t hear you, they can’t hear anything.
Save yourself the tiring tantrum and instead do things that will heed positive results.
Later, when everyone is calm, (or full of wine) you can share your toddler tantrum horror stories with your mommy friends.
Because, you aren’t alone.
Some kids are more strong-willed than others, and boy oh boy, I know this because my son has high functioning autism and his tantrums are a force that makes grown men shiver at night.
But rest assured, we can survive these toddler tantrums, and we can even survive with a little composure and control.
So let’s get to our ultimate guide to dealing with toddler tantrums.
Summary of important points
- Tantrums are completely normal for kids ages 1 and 4
- Remaining calm yourself is the best way to handle a tantrum for a child of any age.
- Have a plan in place to help you remain calm
- Doctors agree that positive reinforcement of good behaviour and consequences for bad behaviour is the best way to minimize tantrums.
- If your child experiences unusually long, intense, or frequent tantrums you might want to seek professional help.
Are My Child’s Temper Tantrums Normal?
Even if your child is sweet and usually well behaved they can STILL burst into the incredible hulk, stomping and screaming if they don’t get their way.
Tantrums also cause parents to behave in ways we don’t want to, like yelling or caving into these demands.
Dr. Michael Potega, Ph.D a psychologist and professor at the University of Minnesota says that roughly 85 percent of 2 and 3 year-olds have tantrums.
They typically start around 1 year old and hit the peak between 1.5 to 3 years old, continuing to around age 5 according to the National Association of School Psychologists.
So yes, kids having temper tantrums is completely normal. It’s a method for young kids to show that they’re upset or frustrated.
Some kids have lots and lots of temper tantrums (like my spirited boy) and others are mellower and rarely have them.
What does a temper tantrum look like?
Temper tantrums look like whining, crying, stomping, throwing themselves on the floor, wailing, screaming, kicking, hitting, biting and breath-holding.
Toddler Tantrums & Preschooler Tantrums – Why do Kids Have Temper Tantrums?
Temper tantrums occur for a variety of reasons, we will look at a few of the common scenarios below:
Sadly, temper tantrums often happen because at one point parents gave into a tantrum and now a child has learned to associate the tantrum with getting their own way.
Uh-oh, and yes, we are all guilty.
Temper tantrums in kids also occur because kids are hungry, tired, thirsty, uncomfortable or over-stimulated.
Another common theme in young kids is that they want
“I do it.”
Have you ever heard that phrase? I bet you have.
Well, what sometimes happens is when they discover that they can’t do it, frustration ensues and so does a little (or big) temper tantrum.
And last but certainly not least, your kiddo might be having a temper tantrum simply because they are not getting their way. They want the toy or candy. End of story.
Invite your child or student into a warming calming corner space or create an engaging calm-down binder. These beautiful resources teach angry, overstimulated, overwhelmed, or upset children emotional awareness, and provide useful calm down strategies to help them navigate these difficult feelings.
What’s happening in the brain?
Here’s the thing:
Young kids lack the physical, motor and language skills to get what they want, this leads to frustration.
It’s like when you’re on your
Except I don’t, well, not usually. Because my brain has developed emotional control.
Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., a neuropsychiatrist, and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., a psychotherapist, states in their best-selling book “The Whole-Brain Child:”
“Children in this age group haven’t mastered the ability to use logic and words to express their feelings, and they live their lives completely in the moment.”
Toddlers are not capable of reasoning yet. That part of their brain isn’t developed. When little people are overcome by stress, something in their brains release stress hormones, and these emotions are intense (to say the least).
Kids need to develop the thinking part of their brains and then make the connections to the emotional brain in order to control big emotions.
And here’s the bad news:
The thinking brain isn’t completely mature until mid-20’s.
But don’t worry, it’s unlikely you’ll be carrying your 13-year-old kicking and screaming out of the grocery store. As kids age, they do get better at this emotional reasoning.
10 Ideas on How to Deal With Toddler Tantrums
1. Be the Calm You Wish to See in Your Child
First and foremost. Stay CALM.
Let me repeat, first and foremost you must find a calm place.
And I know this can be VERY hard when your kiddo is screaming at the top of their lungs.
But you cannot diffuse toddler tantrums if you falling off the tightrope yourself.
Here’s some wisdom that Dr. Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of “The Tantrum Survival Guide,” passed along:
“A parent should be the thermostat, not the thermometer. Your goal is to reset the temperature, Not take it and respond to it.”Dr. Rebecca Schrag Hershberg Ph.D
When my son screams, “I hate you, you are the worst mommy ever,” oh my word, I can feel my blood start to boil, and then I yell back.
Well instead of this toddler tantrum lasting 10 minutes, it’s now 45 min, because I just threw gas on the fire. Poof.
If you want to put out the fire, you have to find a way to be calm.
I’ve got a three-step process to find calm in any situation, you can read the full detailed process here, but to sum it up Cole’s notes style:
- Take 10 deep belly breaths. Stop and do it. Period.
- Then, say and repeat it out loud, “my mind is experiencing unpleasantness,” it’s amazing how simple awareness of your emotions will take their power away.
- Lastly, repeat a mantra, my favourite is “this too shall pass.”
Then, continue breathing and soften your face. The tantrum will pass.
2. In desperate times use your safe room
We will discuss how to deal with toddler tantrums in public below, but when you are at home, get your little one to a safe spot to weather out the storm.
A calm down room is not a punishment it’s a spot for upset and over-stimulated children to go to calm down.
It’s easier to help junior calm down when they are in a calm, safe place.
You can read here on how to create the perfect calm down corner for your little one.
Where to Get Calm Down Corner Printables for Your Safe Room
- 1. The first set of printables we are showcasing is a cost-effective way to grab 2 sets of 5 beautifully designed digital letter-size posters to hang. This cute set includes an inspirational manifesto poster, feelings check-in, reflection, and calming strategies.
- 2. The second set of printables is Mindfulmazing’s Calm Down Corner Toolkit. This is truly an amazing set. It’s voted our #1 recommendation for cost-effectiveness, awesome results, and beauty. It includes 14 posters (you can choose different sizes) that teaches kids to recognize their emotions and provides many calm down strategies (in a fun way).
3. Don’t Be a Control Freak (Avoid power struggles)
Is it really the end of the world if your kiddo is wearing fluorescent pink with bright red pants?
Maybe you are cringing inside, but guess what. It’s not worth the fight.
Pick your battles.
That one phrase CAN, let me rephrase, WILL change your life.
I’m a little bit of a control freak, I admit it. I never really knew this about myself until I had a child.
It takes everything in me to zip it, to not interfere.
But if my kiddo wants to wear his clothes to bed instead of pajamas, or won’t eat that last bite of carrot on his plate, is it worth the fight?
You will have plenty of big important things to battle about. Perhaps let go of the little things.
4. Have you met the basic needs? (think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs)
Do you ever get hangry?
I know I do. And I know my son does too.
Ensure your child is eating and drinking regularly, that they’re not too hot or cold, and (very important) are they getting enough sleep?
(Check out the recommended sleep based on age of kids)
Even if you are a temper tantrum diffusing rockstar (that’s a mouthful) if your child is hungry, tired, wet, hot, or cold your best efforts will surely be drowned in the cries of your ‘hangry’ child.
Give your child a snack in the grocery store cart, and if it’s nap time, just don’t go. Period.
5. Know What to Say, and What Not to Say
Do you know that when our child is upset, whether it’s angry, anxious, or sad, we often always say the wrong thing?
We often say things like, “it’s okay you don’t need to worry about this” or, “you’re fine” or “it’s no big deal.”
Do you know this can often make anger worse? Because when in history has telling someone to calm down actually made anyone calm down?
These words of encouragement are often well-intended but the problem is that they don’t work and they aren’t validating the child’s feelings.
So what CAN you say?
Again, we’ve got an epic article on things you can say to an upset child and you can read it here, but to sum it up:
First, it’s all about acknowledging your child’s feelings. When we’re upset, we want to be heard.
I suggest using the 3 step validation / because process, it works like this:
Example: Your child is upset because their mitts are bothering them, you see them escalating. I would say, “I can see that your mitts are bothering you and that you are angry because you don’t like the way they feel and that’s annoying and because you’ve had a tough morning trying to get ready for school and are already feeling frustrated and because you really are nervous about going to school today and it totally get it.
Notice that there are three because statements.
Instead of problem-solving immediately (which would look like, I see you’re upset but let’s try a different pair of mitts) validate their feelings and then say three
Here’s a few other types of phrases you could try:
- “I see that you are mad, and that is okay. That toy is really cool and I see how upset you are because you feel like your brother always gets new toys and because you haven’t had a new toy in a long time and because superheroes are your absolute favorite!”
- “I’m sorry you’re (state the emotion) because you don’t want to go to bed because then you have to stop playing, and because you don’t like to be left alone in your room, I know that’s scary and because bedtime is just boring isn’t it?“
And if your child is very escalated during certain toddler tantrums, like at the top of the elevator, don’t say much at all. Until they calm slightly say as little as possible. After you calm your child you can move onto problem-solving techniques.
If your child will let you, try a deep pressure hug. I also love to yell polar bear hug time. And we stop what we are doing and squeeze each other as hard as we can. Polar Bear Hug is of my favorite mindfulness exercises from our best-selling guide Mighty Mindful Kids.
6. Distraction is the best medicine
There is no shame in distraction.
Seriously, it’s likely my number one rockstar mom tip for diffusing a tantrum that is already underway.
Here’s how I handle the art of distraction with my very upset 4 year old.
- Put on a happy face, like I’m not bothered at all by the commotion going on.
- Sometimes I will start singing a song (or play a fun song and start dancing)
- Sometimes I’ll suggest we hop like bunnies or flutter like butterflies to the car.
- I use this set of printable calm down cards, I pull three from the pile and we must do whatever the calm down card says. (#distraction)
- If you notice your sibling has snatched a toy, offer a different one
- Change the setting, go outside if you are inside, or go to a new room
Distraction is a powerful weapon in your tool belt of toddler tantrums calming strategies.
Get creative, and don’t overlook these superpowers.
Young kids want to have fun, they don’t want to be left out and they want attention. So redirect their energy into something fun.
7. Don’t Do These 3 Things
Don’t give in.
Under NO circumstances, do you give in. If you do, you’ll be whipped with so many tantrums your head will spin.
In other words, don’t give in.
Don’t punish your toddler.
They are expressing their frustration in the only way their level of development allows them.
Think of it this, if you were to confide in your friend for getting upset when your boss yelled at you, wouldn’t you be upset if they punished you for expressing your feelings?
In fact, the less talking the better.
When your toddler is riding up the elevator of emotion they can’t hear or reason anyways. Save your breath for later.
But do ignore the behaviour, not the child! Do not give negative attention.
8. Teach coping strategies
This takes a little advanced planning, but start teaching kids how to take control of their big emotions.
This looks like deep breaths or counting backwards or using their words.
We’ve got an entire anger rescue kit for young kids here that you can work through with your child when they are calm.
Does your child ever get angry?
If your kiddo suffers from BIG emotions, you’ve just gotta check out this life-saving tool, the Anger Rescue Kit for Kids. With over 60 pages this will quickly become your new go-to for helping your child develop appropriate coping strategies.
In time, using these skills, kids will begin to retain some of these strategies, and like me, you might be surprised one day when you find your child counting backward when they are upset.
It can sometimes be hard to get your kiddo to use calming strategies when they are very escalated, so I try to model the behaviour.
My son might scream at me that he doesn’t want to do deep breaths, that’s dumb. Instead of attempting to force him, I’ll sit still next to him and take 10 deep breaths myself while calmly counting.
We also try to practice coping strategies at moments when we are calm and at the bottom of the elevator.
You can also grab this FREE 54321 grounding exercise printable. It’s an awesome way to diffuse anger, anxiety, or aggression.
What can you do to keep your cool and help your child calm down? Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, child psychologist, and mother of two, has a unique understanding of both the science behind tantrums and what works in the heat of the moment to nip blowups in the bud. Get the Tantrum Survival Guide here.
9. Shower your child with love
Give positive attention – all the time.
Kids will try to seek out any kind of attention, negative too. Make sure that you don’t feed into their negative attention-seeking behavior.
Notice when they are being good, reinforce positive behavior with praise and encouragement.
Young children are hard-wired to seek parental attention of any kind, so try to reserve your most intense reactions for behaviors you’d like to see repeated.
10. Operate within your limits
Set realistic schedules. Are you jam packing to much into your days?
Lots of toddlers get overstimulated or struggle with transitions. Visible checklists and routines can help your kiddo transition smoothly.
We’ve got an entire post on helping your kiddo with transitions, there are so many awesome strategies here.
Also, observe, learn and plan.
If your child always has an issue leaving the playground, well don’t walk into the yard blind.
Have a plan, maybe beforehand tell them they will receive a treat if they leave when asked.
(Just make sure you follow through, don’t give the treat if they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.)
If you’re child always has a tantrum at the checkout line of the grocery store, ask them to help you pack the groceries or offer them a snack at this time.
Kids are smart, but we are smarter.
What if my child is having a tantrum in public?
Toddler tantrums in public can be even more frustrating, and embarrassing.
Calmly remove your child from the public place and take her to a private location. I often pick my child up and take her to the car.
Some might argue against this. But my child has lost control, they don’t need others to see, shame, and judge them.
Here is my fool proof strategy once we get in the car:
I tuck my child into his car seat and I remain completely silent and calm until they have calmed down. I don’t speak, talk, or give any attention.
Just calmly wait.
Things we do that make toddler tantrums worse?
- Warning over and over
- Giving in
- Paying attention to the tantrum
What Should I Do After a Tantrum?
Don’t be afraid to circle back.
Having said this, you don’t need to talk at nauseum about why their behavior sucked.
In other words don’t beat a dead horse.
A simple discussion about how they could have handled the situation better. We like to do a little role-playing and reinvent the scene.
And don’t forget to praise your child when they’ve earned it for regaining control. For example, “I like how you calmed down.”
Kids may be especially vulnerable after a tantrum when they know they’ve been little monsters.
But here’s the thing:
We do not want to shame our child (no matter how fierce the tantrum was). Instead, we need to give hugs and reassurance that we love them, no matter what.
Tantrums vs. Meltdowns
I just want to touch on this briefly because there is a difference between a child having a tantrum and a child having a meltdown. And I think it’s important we understand the difference.
A tantrum is a reaction kids have when they are trying to get their way. And when kids get a little older and have better language, tantrums tend to go away. (Even though for some kids who are more spirited they may last longer than the toddler and preschooler years)
Kids might throw a tantrum if you won’t give them candy, or if they lose a game. Kids might even stop in the middle of their tantrum to ensure you are watching.
A meltdown is very different from a tantrum. It’s a reaction to feeling overwhelmed.
It’s often a result of too much sensory input. Certain sounds, sights, tastes, and textures.
A meltdown is trying to process to much input all at once. This is very common in kids with autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, and other childhood disorders.
A hockey game could set them off, for some kids the feeling of their clothes might. Even heading to the store could trigger a big meltdown.
There is so much more we could say about meltdowns here, but for now, let’s just say to be aware that there is a difference and we handle meltdowns differently than we do tantrums.
At a Glance
- Tantrums and meltdowns look alike (but they aren’t the same)
- It’s very hard to tell the difference by just looking at an upset child.
- Kids don’t have meltdowns on purpose, and they will often feel shame or bad about them after
Temper Tantrums When Should I Worry? When Should I Call the Doctor?
Although tantrums are normal, extreme meltdown and tantrums can mean something else is going on. For my son, this was what prompted our investigation into what led to his high functioning autism diagnosis.
Ultimately, I think you will have a gut feel if the tantrums are within the scope of normal behavior. I knew something was off with my son’s tantrums, they were just too intense, long, and frequent.
Doctors suggest that if a child’s tantrums occur more than five to ten times a day, or frequently lasts longer than 10 minutes, or include aggression, then you might want to talk to your doctor.
Other reasons to talk to your doctor:
- If you cannot control your own emotions when dealing with tantrums
- You’re growing resentful of your child
- You aren’t sure if you’re parenting tactics are working or effective
- If the tantrums are getting worse
- Your child seems agitated a lot, gets upset over bright lights, loud noises, or certain textures.
- If your child hurts himself/herself or shows repeated aggression to
- Your child seems very disagreeable, argues a lot, and hardly ever cooperates.
There are some health issues that can contribute to tantrums, just a few include, sensory processing disorder, autism, anxiety disorders, ADHD, learning disabilities, allergies, hearing or vision problems.
But don’t be alarmed, tantrums are perfectly normal and usually peter out on their own. As kids mature, they gain self-control. They learn to cooperate, communicate, and cope with frustration.
Less frustration and more control will mean fewer tantrums — and happier parents.
Don’t forget to grab your Calming Corner Printables and start creating peaceful time-in’s instead of shaming time-out’s.
A calm down corner, room, or binder is a space for angry, overstimulated, or upset kids to go to calm down. It’s free from blame, shame, and pain. This GIANT calming bundle includes OVER 20 worksheets, posters, and interactive charts which will help you set up an inviting calming space or binder for kids, whether at home or in the classroom.
And, don’t leave without snagging our awesome anger management printables for kids!
If your kiddo suffers from BIG emotions, you’ve just gotta check the life-saving Anger Rescue Kit for Kids. This will epic guide includes over 60 pages and will become your new go-to for helping your child develop appropriate coping strategies.
Other resources you might love:
- 55 Anger Management Strategies for Kids – The Ultimate Guide
- 11 Cool Down Techniques For Kids You Can Use Anywhere
- How to Create The Perfect Bedtime Routine
- Anxiety in Kids – The Ultimate Guide
I’d love to hear all about your toddler tantrums below!
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