You’re in the middle of weekly shopping when you pass a colorful display of bouncy balls. (Why in the world do they put stuff like that in the middle of the aisle?) Your two-year old reaches for them and yells “Want!” You cringe inside, dreading what you know is coming. You try calmly telling her no and walking quickly away, but she begins to yell louder, and soon she’s in the middle of a full-blown tantrum, kicking and screaming on the floor as other shoppers look your way. Your embarrassment is complete; you vow to never set foot in any store in this town again.
Toddler tantrums are no fun, but there’s not a parent alive who hasn’t experienced them. The good news is, they usually subside by around the age of three, when kids’ language skills have developed a bit more, and they’re able to communicate what they’re thinking and feeling with words instead of screams. So take a deep breath and try to employ these strategies for helping your toddler (and you!) get through the tantrum phase.
Why is my toddler having tantrums?
Tantrums often begin around the time of language development – kids are frustrated because they’re trying to communicate, but they haven’t yet fully developed the ability to put into words what they’re thinking and feeling. And a toddler’s brain simply isn’t developed enough to be logical — so they’re driven by unregulated urges and emotions.
What can I do to stop a tantrum?
First, know that you won’t always be able to stop a tantrum. Sometimes you just have to ride it out, and that’s ok. When your child begins a tantrum, try to keep as calm as possible. Keep a neutral expression on your face, and act disinterested. Engage as little as possible with the tantrum.
If you’re at home, try sitting with your child and allowing her to work through her emotions. She’ll usually go from screaming to crying. When she’s done, she’ll probably be physically exhausted. Ask her if she’d like a hug.
If you’re in a public place, you can sit or stand calmly next to her as well. If you can, take your child outside or to a more private area. There will be times when you’ll have to physically pick her up to remove her from disturbing other people. Do this as calmly as possible.
How can I help my child have fewer tantrums?
After the tantrum is over, help your child put into words what she was feeling. For instance, you might say, “When we walked by those pretty bouncy balls, you really wanted one didn’t you? And when mommy said no, it made you mad.” Giving your child the words will begin helping her identify her feelings so she can feel more in control of her emotions.
You can also teach your child ways to stay calm. Model the behavior for her. For instance, say, “Mommy is feeling anxious right now. Can you help me feel calm by taking 10 deep breaths with me?” Do this at times when she’s calm and not in the middle of a tantrum.
Give your child positive attention when she’s not throwing a tantrum. Praise her for doing positive things, such as being helpful, or for using her words to ask for things and say how she feels. Point out positive actions such as sharing by saying things like, “Mommy and daddy are taking turns talking. We feel so good when we listen to each other!” Praise her for “using her inside voice” or “picking up her toys the first time you asked.”
Finally, it helps to head tantrums off at the pass by making sure your child is well rested, isn’t hungry, and isn’t over-stimulated.
Have a zero tolerance policy for kicking, biting, hitting, and stop a tantrum immediately by physically holding your child if she’s at risk of injuring herself or others.
Just remember, there will be days when you just aren’t going to prevent tantrums, no matter what you do. Tantrums are part of a child’s development, and you CAN get through them! Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you feel your child’s tantrums are prolonged are happening frequently, or if you are concerned for any reason. We’re here to help!
For more helpful information on tantrums and positive behavior reinforcement, visit HealthyChildren.org.