Temper Tantrums – Guidelines for Parents

Temper tantrums are inevitable and a normal part of a child’s development. They are a regular part of a toddler’s life and can also occur in older children.

While we hate tantrums because they make us feel uncomfortable, powerless, and sometimes angry, they should not be perceived as something negative. Unlike adults, children do not have the same inhibitions or control – and they have not learned the tools to handle the triggers that lead to tantrums.

Why do tantrums occur? They happen for a variety of reasons, most often when the child is tired, hungry, uncomfortable, angry or just seeking attention. But mostly tantrums are the result of kids' frustration with the world. They want to do a lot of things that their little bodies and growing minds won’t allow them to do. They can't get something (for example, an object or a parent) to do what they want. They often become frustrated with their own limitations, and therefore lash out in a temper tantrum. This frustration is unavoidable since toddlers do not have the language skills to make the world work the way they want it to. They are still learning how people, objects, and their own bodies work in any given situation.

What is a tantrum? A tantrum can range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting, and even breath holding. Because kids' temperaments vary dramatically — so some kids may experience regular tantrums, whereas others have them rarely. But they do happen and it is up to the parent to handle them. While tantrums can’t be stopped (and should not be) they can be prevented.

How to prevent tantrums?

  1. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep.
  2. Children need to eat a nutritionally balanced diet at regular intervals throughout the day. Limit Sugar, it should only be allowed as a special treat and certainly no soda.
  3. Children like to feel in control. So anything from choosing an outfit to eating, give your child two choices, this makes them feel empowered and in control but ultimately you’re getting the result you want.
  4. When you can’t give a choice, for example; when you need to leave the house, a play date or turn off the television; preempt a tantrum by giving them a 5-minute warning. Children find it hard to shift gears quickly, so by letting them know “you have 5 minutes and then it’s time to leave” you give them time to digest and accept what’s going to happen next. For younger children or children that find it hard to transition you may need to count down by the minute, “5 minutes left until we leave, 4...,3...,2..., 1 minute left until we leave, time to go”.
  5. Be consistent and establish limits.

Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to handle your toddlers temper tantrums.

How to handle tantrums?

  1. Do not feed your child’s temper tantrum by giving them attention when they meltdown. Ignore the tantrum as much as possible. As soon as your child sees it doesn’t get them anywhere their tantrums will become shorter in length and less frequent.
  2. Do not hold them or try to calm them during a tantrum. Leave them wherever it takes place, of course providing it’s safe to do so. If not, move them to a safe place and then leave them.
  3. Do not try reason with your child. When they are in the throws of a tantrum they are not going to listen to what you’re saying. Wait until they calm down before you talk to them.
  4. Let them know that as soon as they calm down you are there for them but until then you can’t help them.

While it is hard to do, you must remain calm during tantrums. Stay cool. Do not get angry or upset.  We are all human at the end of the day but it’s important that your child does not see that this certain behavior riles you. You need to remain in control. If your child sees your frustration or anger, the situation will become worse for both you and the child. Take a deep breath and let the tantrum play out.

Tantrums in a public place, what to do?

  1. Give your child to the count of 3 to stop the tantrum or you leave. Tell them “I’m going to count to 3 and if you don’t stop by the time I get to 3 then we will leave”. If you get to 3 you must leave, you must follow through and mean what you say. This is not always easy to do depending on where you are or what you’re doing.
  2. If you’re grocery shopping, take your child outside or to the car to finish their tantrum. When they are finished take them back into the store so you can finish your shopping.
  3. If you’re at a play date, the park, toyshop or restaurant, take your child straight home.
  4. If you’re in the car ignore them. If it’s too much to bear you should pull over and stop the car in a safe place. You may find it easier to stand outside the car, paying them no attention until they stop but obviously keeping an eye.

After the storm

There is an end to the storm. And even though all is calm, do not reward your child by giving into their demands. It’s better to praise your child for settling down. When the tantrum is over, this is the time to talk about what happened and let your child know that they are loved, no matter what.