5 Techniques for Dealing with Temper Tantrums

Toddler boy lying on the ground having a temper tantrums

You can help your toddler deal with temper tantrums and learn appropriate behavior by trying these 5 positive parenting techniques.

Have you ever experienced this situation? You bring your little angel home from the hospital and enjoy months of sweetness overload. They are all smiles and cuteness, and you feel like this parenting thing maybe won’t be so hard after all. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a monster takes over your child’s body, spewing fits of rage at the smallest little thing. It begins to happen more and more often. You have entered the world of Temper Tantrums.

Reasons Children Have Temper Tantrums

What happened to your sweet baby? Are you doing something wrong? Is something the matter with your child? They are normally so pleasant and happy. There are several reasons why children have temper tantrums:

Reason #1: They are Normal

In the world of Child Development, there is a term called “Typical Behavior”, which describes behaviors that are normal for children of a certain age. For example, the “terrible twos” are called such because of the negativity that is normal for this age group. Bossiness is common with four-year-olds. And it is very typical for tweens to use backtalk or be moody.

A temper tantrum is a Typical Behavior for children starting at about 18-months and continuing through the toddler years. It’s important to remember if your child begins having tantrums, there is nothing wrong with them. In fact, they are normal.

However, just because a behavior is typical, doesn’t mean it’s okay for them to continue doing it. We need to lovingly teach children to deal with their behavior and learn to do things that are more appropriate.

Also, it’s important to know that it is NOT typical for school-age or older children to have regular temper tantrums. If your older child continues to have meltdowns on a regular basis, this is a serious behavioral or emotional issue that needs to be addressed.

Reason #2: They are Frustrated

A major reason why children have temper tantrums is that they are frustrated. They want so much to be able to do things like big people, but their little bodies haven’t learned how yet. Toddlers are often not able to communicate what they want or how they feel. They are old enough developmentally to realize they are a separate being from their mother but are scared because they can’t yet take care of themselves. They also haven’t learned all the rules for social interaction, and it can be frustrating not knowing what to expect in a certain situation.

A common frustration for a child is having no choices. Think about it. Your child has very little control over their life. Someone else chooses where they go, what they eat, who they play with, and what time they do things. Many times they will refuse to do something just to be able to have some control for themselves.

Reason #3: They are Human

We should expect that children will be emotional, because they are human. Even as adults, sometimes we get frustrated, angry, or sad when something doesn’t go how we want it to. Why would we expect a toddler to be any different?

Always remember that their emotions are very real and as valid as our own. You have to expect that your child might get upset about something, even if it is insignificant to you. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to lash out, scream, pound fists, or kick things. You have (hopefully) learned how to express emotions appropriately, but like most everything, this is all new to your toddler. They are still learning.

Five Positive Techniques

The following are 5 techniques you can use as a parent or caregiver to deal with temper tantrums and help children learn to cope with their emotions:

Technique #1: Prevent the Tantrum if Possible

After living with your child every day, chances are, you know the things that are going to set them off. You are probably also familiar with the times and places they are most likely to get frustrated. By planning ahead and preparing your child, you can often avoid a temper tantrum.

Prepare Them for What’s Coming

Always try to let your child know what’s coming next and what to expect. For example, if you know your child always gets mad when it’s time to pick up toys, give them some advance notice. After all, if you were in the middle of doing something you enjoy, you probably wouldn’t be very happy if someone made you suddenly stop and put things away without warning! Tell the child, “In 5 minutes, it will be time to put toys away.” Then give them updates every minute, so they can have a chance to wind down.

If you are going into a situation where you know your child is likely to have a temper tantrum, or if it’s a new situation, make sure to prepare them. Talk about where you are going and what you’re going to do. Explain or remind what behavior is expected. Speak in a soothing and loving voice that will help your child feel calm about the situation.

Children often go by social cues to know what’s coming. Even young babies learn to get ready for sleep when they have a consistent bedtime routine. Make sure to give plenty of clues and make use of daily routines to make things more predictable and less stressful for your toddler (and you!)

Change Up the Routine

Sometimes the cause of a tantrum is simply being tired. Statistically, more temper tantrums happen later in the day, when children are exhausted from a busy day, have had their nap schedule messed up, or are overstimulated. If this is happening often, try changing your schedule. Maybe you could run errands earlier in the day or adjust nap time. Maybe you can have more quiet time in the afternoons.

Give Some Sort of Choice

Because temper tantrums often come from a lack of choices for toddlers, you can usually avoid them by simply giving the child some control. This does not have to mean a free-for-all, with the kid calling all the shots. You can give controlled choices that help them feel like they had some say in the matter.

For example, if there’s usually a power struggle over clothes, you can lay out a couple of acceptable outfits and ask, “Do you want to wear the pink dress or the yellow one?” Surprisingly, this is usually enough of a choice to satisfy most toddlers. There is ALWAYS a choice you can offer your child. Even if it’s something like, “Do you want to eat the carrots or the chicken first?” Or “Are you going to do it all by yourself, or do you want my help?”

Technique #2: Redirect

Redirecting is one of the best tricks of the trade for a parent or caregiver! Thanks to an incredibly short attention span (about 1 minute for every year of age), it’s usually really easy to distract a toddler from whatever is causing a temper tantrum.

It’s kind of like shiny-penny syndrome. They want that toy that other baby has? “Hey, look at this awesome toy over here!” They don’t want to be in the bathtub? “Ooh, look at these fun bubbles!” Basically with this technique, you just make them forget what they were upset about. And 9 times out of 10 it works with most toddlers!

Technique #3: Teach them Appropriate Words

Because one of the frustrations is not being able to tell how they feel, children often resort to screaming, crying, and throwing a fit. When your toddler is in the middle of a temper tantrum, you can give them words they can use to express themself. “You seem angry about that. Let’s go tell him he hurt your feelings.” Or “I can tell you didn’t want to put the toys away. Would you like me to help you?”

After a few times of this, you can ask the child how they are feeling, and in time they can begin to express themselves in words. This technique also has the added bonus of encouraging the child to open up about a variety of things (both good and bad) in the future.

This is also a good time to show love to your child. Hold them and remind them you love them. Often, hearing your comforting words will soften their frustration, and it also helps them learn to be compassionate to others.

Technique #4: Give them Time to Work it Out

Just like us, children sometimes just need time to cry it out and deal with what they are feeling. If the child is having a particularly long or severe temper tantrum, and other things you have tried are not working, sometimes just letting them have some space is the best thing to do. Also, you will have time to compose yourself if you are beginning to feel frustrated as well.

If you are at home, leave the room (but stay close by where you can check in). When in a public place, calmly carry them out to the car or to a quiet room out of the way and sit with them while they take some time to settle down.

It might also be appropriate, especially if the child is being hurtful towards another person, to put them in Time-Out. I will discuss Time-Outs more in depth in a future post, but basically, have the child sit in a quiet place away from other people for 1 minute per year of age. This will give them time to calm down, away from the frustrating situation.

It will most likely be best to not give extra attention to them at this time.  Make sure they are in a place where you can easily check in, but they won’t be able to “put on a show”. Then, they will be less likely to continue having tantrums to get attention.

Technique #5: Set a Good Example

It is always important to exhibit the kind of behavior ourselves that we want to see in our children. More than with words, children learn from us by watching what we do.

When you find yourself upset or angry about something, remember that little eyes are watching! Remember to use appropriate words to express yourself, rather than yelling or doing something physically violent.

You may also need to give yourself a time-out. Go in another room or walk outside and take a minute to cool down. Redirect yourself by doing some exercise or a hobby for a little while and come back to the issue later when you are calmed down. It’s okay and even ideal to say out loud what you are doing to positively deal with frustration. It will help your child learn coping mechanisms of their own.

Always Reconnect

As with any behavior correction, always take a moment to reconnect with your child when it’s over. Get on your child’s level and give a physical touch, like holding their hand or giving a hug. Take a few seconds to talk about what happened and give ideas for next time.

With toddlers, this will be mostly you talking, but speak to them like you are having a conversation, not lecturing. Give a big hug and tell them you love them, no matter what. This small moment takes just a minute but will go a long way towards positive behavior and interactions down the road.

What’s Your Experience?

What situations usually set your little one off? What techniques for handling temper tantrums have worked for you? Leave your answer in the comments!

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