Toddler Temper Tantrums

Are you dealing with a screaming child? Do you wonder where you went wrong?

Many assume that temper tantrums are behaviors that should be discouraged because they are indications of spoiled children or poor parenting.  Yet temper tantrums are a natural part of toddler development. Toddlers struggle to put into words how they are feeling and their actions tend to be an outward expression of their  inner emotions. Toddlers live in the moment and are extremely self-centered so walking down the toy aisle and trying to explain to your child that she needs to wait till her birthday to get what she wants can definitely turn into a tantrum.

Temper tantrums can be extremely exasperating for parents, especially in a public place. Take comfort in knowing there are ways to prevent temper tantrums and still support a toddler’s natural development:

  1. Stick to a routine. A child who is tired and/or hungry may have much lower tolerance for frustration. Plan ahead by bringing a snack and making sure he is rested before running errands.   
  2. Prepare your child. Set expectations if you are anticipating an experience that has led to temper tantrums. For example, if you are on your way to the grocery store tell your child exactly what you are after, “we are going to the grocery store to get three things; apples, milk and bread”. Repeat it more than once or have her repeat it. Give fair warning when you are leaving a pleasurable experience as well, like playing at a park.
  3. Be consistent. Be firm with the limits you set because toddlers will test them. Don’t make empty threats – only say what you will actually do.
  4. Avoid power struggles by offering choices. Provide choices that align with your expectations. For example, “it isn’t safe to run in the house but you can walk like a duck or walk on your tip toes”. Just be sure not to offer too many choices (two options are sufficient) and the choices you offer are suitable alternatives.
  5. Lead by example. Role model expressing anger and frustration so your child can learn how to handle these feelings.
  6. Be prepared to divert the tantrum. Acknowledge that your child is frustrated by labeling their feelings, then be silly or try a distraction. For example, “let’s count how many trucks we pass on the way home”.
  7. Ignore the tantrum when you can. By not responding to your child’s acting out behaviors you may end future tantrums. For your child, your non-reaction will speak louder than the tantrum.
  8. If all else fails, calmly get your child and leave where you are—even leaving behind a shopping cart full of groceries at a store, however inconvenient. Show her that you are in control.