How To Handle Toddler Temper Tantrums

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When you have a child, it’s only a matter of time before you’re navigating toddler temper tantrums. The good news is you aren’t alone. The not so good news is that you need to learn how to deal with your child when it’s happening. Don’t worry—we’ve got you covered.

Do All Toddlers Have Temper Tantrums?

Here’s a hard truth about temper tantrums and children—every child can have one. It doesn’t matter what race you are, or whether your child is a boy or a girl, placid or temperamental. Children have temper tantrums. As a parent, you’re just along for the ride, trying to manage them in the best way possible.

What Is A Temper Tantrum?

Temper tantrums are common in toddlers between 1 and 3 years old. During this time, children are becoming incredibly aware of themselves and the world around them. They’re experiencing large, new emotions for the first time.

They may not have the verbal skills to fully communicate the hows and whys behind their feelings. This is a huge period of growth and turmoil for them.

Their inability to fully process or communicate their feelings may lead to emotional outbursts—known as temper tantrums. They can be a reflection of anger, frustration, disappointment, or sadness. In short, these temper tantrums are an expression of emotion they otherwise don’t know how to communicate.

So, yes, dealing with temper tantrums can be many things for a parent. It can be embarrassing, upsetting, and it may even make you angry. However, these episodes are a perfectly normal part of childhood. Trying to keep perspective on why it’s happening may help you keep your cool while you’re navigating these difficult times.

How To Handle A Temper Tantrum

First things first—try not to escalate the emotion. As we already established, it can be hard to keep yourself together when your child is throwing a temper tantrum. That said, it’s so important that you do.

You want to help communicate to your child that they need to be calm. The best way to do this is by being calm yourself.

As a parent, you’ll find it’s sometimes tough to do the thing your child needs most. You may be overworked, underappreciated, and exhausted. Emotions do run high when you’re in these situations. You can better help your child navigate an emotional outburst by doing the following:

woman taking a deep breath
  • Take a deep breath: Go ahead. Take two. This will force you to keep from speaking or acting prematurely. It can give you the time you need to control your emotions and put yourself in the moment.
  • Count backward from 10: Need to do this in addition to those deep breaths? Go ahead. Give yourself whatever time you need to be the best parent for your child.
  • Get down on their level: If your child is flailing around on the floor, crouch down to speak to them. This encourages eye contact while also making your child feel valued. Remember, they’re having these big feelings they can’t express; giving them affirmation that they’re communicating successfully can go a long way.
  • Forgive yourself: Did you see the temper tantrum coming but couldn’t derail it? Lost your temper and made the whole situation worse? No parent is perfect. Do your best to learn from the experience and give it your best shot next time.
  • Don’t sweep it under the rug: Yes, temper tantrums can happen at inopportune times and they can be embarrassing. Though it may be tempting, do not give in to your child’s wants or demands, just to make the temper tantrum disappear. This will solidify in your child’s mind that this is an appropriate way to get what they want. While it may end the current tantrum, it will likely result in more later.

Preventing Temper Tantrums

You probably aren’t going to escape parenthood without experiencing a temper tantrum or two. There are, however, a few things you can do to help your child avoid them:

  • Reward your child for positive behavior: By rewarding, I don’t mean gifting toys or allowing extra desserts. Instead, provide affirmation for positive actions. Let your child know you appreciate how well they’ve been listening, how hard they’re working, and how patient they are. This can help them feel valued and helps them better understand how you want them to behave.
  • Help your child be successful: Allowing your child to feel proud of themselves can help them avoid being overcome by emotion. Self-esteem is an important building block for your child’s emotional health.
  • Remove temptation: If there are hot-button items you know will elicit an emotional response from your child, go ahead and put them away. There’s nothing to be gained from putting you and your child through unnecessary temper tantrums. It won’t prove a point or improve the child’s relationship with those items.
  • Listen to your child: Just like adults, children appreciate feeling like they’ve been heard. This means taking into consideration their wants and needs. If your child has a specific request for an activity, a meal, or an item, give it actual consideration. You may find it doesn’t hurt to provide your child with it, that it can improve your child’s communication skills, and that it avoids a tantrum.
  • Give your child some control: Temper tantrums may worsen when your child feels like they don’t have control over their own life. It’s true that children require a lot of guidance—they need rules and structure. You can give them the feeling of being in charge of themselves by allowing them choices over small things. Let your child choose from a selection of activities, the vegetable they have with dinner, or what t-shirt they want to wear.
  • Redirect your child: See an impending temper tantrum on the horizon? Plan accordingly. Remove your child from an overstimulating environment, or switch to a less frustrating activity. This can help stop the tantrum before it ever starts.
  • Keep your child’s needs in mind: It’s sometimes difficult to juggle your child’s needs with your own. While it can be frustrating, you need to keep your child’s limits in mind. If they’ve already missed their mid-afternoon nap and are starting to crash, don’t keep running errands. Call it a day and end on a positive note. 

When To Seek Help

Temper tantrums can be a very normal action for many children. Some behaviors warrant consultation with your pediatrician, though:

crying toddler
  • Tantrums grow in scope: If your child’s temper tantrums become bigger, more frequent, or uncontrollable, call your doctor. The longer temper tantrums spiral out of control, the harder the behavior can be to resolve.
  • Your child hurts themselves: Your child’s safety should always be a paramount concern. If your child is hurting themselves (intentionally or unintentionally) during tantrums, reach out to your doctor. A treatment plan can help your child stay safe while you work through this period of temper tantrums.
  • Your child’s behavior is worsening: If your child is becoming more disagreeable, argumentative, or uncooperative, it may be time to call your doctor. 

If you’re having difficulty navigating your child during this time, it’s also okay to ask for help. If you’re feeling unreasonably angry or out of control, reach out to your own doctor for guidance and referrals.

Navigating Toddler Temper Tantrums

Toddler temper tantrums are an unfortunate reality of parenthood. The good news is this phase won’t last forever. Most children outgrow temper tantrums as they learn how to verbally express their needs and manage their emotions.

In the meantime, do your best to provide the kind of example your child needs—and work through the tantrums as best you can.

Howard is a co-founder of Smart Parent Advice. When he isn't spending time with his wife, Kristin, or his two children, he can often be found running around on the tennis court.