It's essential to know that tantrums are actually a normal part of child development. Instead of trying to completely prevent all tantrums, a more realistic approach is to instead focus on how to manage tantrums when they do occur. With time, as a child ages and as a parent learns to better navigate a tantrum, tantrums should become less frequent and less intense. So hang in there!
Before diving into strategies to manage tantrums, it's important to first understand what they are and why they occur. Tantrums are outbursts of intense emotion and frustration, most commonly seen in children between the ages of 1 and 3.1 Though it may seem longer, most tantrums last on average between 3 to 7 minutes in length. These outbursts may include crying, screaming, or stomping. More intense tantrums can sometimes present with hitting, kicking, or throwing objects or even one’s own body to the ground.2
Tantrums are the perfect storm that arises when big emotions confront a young child’s developmentally limited communication abilities and lack of coping skills. For young children, tantrums are a way to express frustration, anger, or disappointment.
Additionally, toddlers are often facing uncharted territories as they discover their autonomy. Toddlers are looking to gain more control, and when they can't get what they want, it can lead to tantrums. Similarly, during this developmental phase of discovering autonomy, toddlers thrive with a well-followed routine. This is because an established routine helps a child know what to expect and makes them feel more self-assured and in control. Simple changes in routine can sometimes overwhelm a young child and may lead to more frequent tantrums. This is why parents often face tantrums at the Tantrums can also be more frequent when children are in physical discomfort. When children are sick, tired, or hungry, they are more likely to melt down.
Strategies to Tame Tantrums
The first step to take when your child is having a tantrum, is to take a brief moment to remind yourself to stay calm. Children often look to their caregivers for emotional cues, so staying composed sends a clear message that everything will be okay.
Tantrums can actually become more prolonged if you match your child’s heightened emotions with more yelling and distress. Try to take a deep breath, and remind yourself that this is a moment that will pass. Similarly, it is important to model good behavior. When you yourself have a moment of frustration or difficulty, make sure your toddler catches you handling your stress in an appropriate way. Take deep breaths, vocalize that you are taking a moment to calm down, and try to avoid shouting or physical displays of anger.
Next, help your child learn what their emotions are and how to handle them. If your toddler appears angry or upset, teach them how to identify those feelings. Likewise, validate any emotions that your child is expressing. Remember, it IS okay for your child to feel sad, mad, or frustrated. It’s just not okay for them to express their emotions in dangerous or disruptive ways.
For example, you can say, “I see you are upset that it’s time to leave the park. It’s okay to feel mad about leaving the park. It’s not okay to throw your toys. Throwing toys can hurt someone.” In certain cases when a tantrum is more prolonged, it may help to gently divert your child’s attention from the tantrum trigger to a more positive focus. For example, after having to leave the park, you can say, “It’s snack time! Would you like blueberries or cucumbers?” or “When we get home, do you want to play with your blocks or read books together?”
Later in the day, when your child is calmed down and happy, talk about what happened earlier and better ways they can cope with being mad. I also recommend reading books about feelings - there are many toddler appropriate books that address big feelings and inappropriate behaviors.
Reward Positive Behavior
Another helpful strategy is to give your child plenty of positive reinforcement and love. When your child behaves well, acknowledge it, and provide positive feedback. This encourages them to repeat the behavior. Toddlers are known to repeat behaviors that get them the most attention. So make sure to give extra attention to good behaviors, and stay calm during a tantrum to avoid inadvertently giving bad behaviors more attention. Even still, it is always okay to reassure your toddler they are loved by offering a hug.
Hugs and physical touch, even when recovering from a tantrum, can help your toddler feel more secure and may help them get through a tantrum faster. If your child is trying to hit, kick, or bite you, you can hold them gently in a big hug until they calm down.
Preventing Tantrums - Plan Ahead With Your Child
Toddlers do best with a predictable, consistent routine. Try to follow a routine for the different parts of their day, from getting dressed to bedtime. The more often you follow a consistent routine, the less frequent tantrums will occur. Of course, there will be times where it’s unavoidable to break routine. In these circumstances, preparation is key!
Prepare your toddler for any different events or activities by talking in detail about what will happen ahead of time. If your toddler knows what to expect, they will be less surprised and less likely to get overwhelmed. Even simply discussing a grocery store trip ahead of time and letting them know you are only getting items on the list, and what that list is, may help avoid tantrums as well.Another helpful way to prevent tantrums is to offer your child choices. Allowing your child to make simple choices, such as selecting their clothes or snacks, gives them a sense of control and reduces frustration.
Avoid Tantrum Triggers
Avoiding common tantrum triggers is another effective strategy to stop meltdowns before they start. Make sure your child is well-fed, well-rested, and comfortable. Hunger, tiredness, or physical discomfort can exacerbate tantrums. Carry healthy snacks, prioritize your child’s sleep, and make sure to consult with their medical provider if they have any frequent complaints of pain.
Additionally, if you have any concerns about your child’s speech, speak with your doctor right away. Since tantrums are a reflection of difficulty communicating, they can sometimes be seen more frequently among children with speech and language developmental delays.
Finally, being a good role model is a vital tool. Children learn the most from their parents. If they see you manage stress and frustration calmly, they are more likely to adopt the same behavior. Being aware of your own stress triggers and maintaining a calm demeanor in these instances will significantly contribute to reducing your child’s tantrums.
Patient Parenting - This Stage Will Pass!
Overall, remember to be patient. Tantrums are a part of normal childhood development, and they are not a reflection of your parenting. Tantrums won't disappear overnight. Be patient with your child's development, and remind yourself that this phase will pass.
Taming tantrums is a challenging but vital aspect of parenting. Understanding the root causes, implementing preventive strategies, and managing tantrums with empathy and consistency can transform these moments of conflict into opportunities for growth and connection.
Remember, you are not alone in dealing with tantrums, and every child is unique. Through patience, love, and effective communication, you can help your child develop the emotional skills they need to navigate the challenges of childhood and beyond.