How to Deal With Toddler Tantrums

Picture this scenario and think about whether it sounds familiar to you:

Toddler Tantrum

A “reasonable” response to having your box of raisins taken away (Photo credit: Flickr – Sean Dreilinger)

It’s a beautiful sunny Saturday morning and what better way to spend a pleasant weekend day then running a few errands and enjoying some quality time with your 2-year-old. You plan to start the day at the local grocery store in order to pick up a few things for the week’s meal planning ahead, so you plop your toddler into the shopping cart and begin your usual circumnavigation of the store.

Forgetting the milk, you decide to take a shortcut down aisle seven, not realizing at first that aisle seven is where all the toys are held, glistening in all their glory, and seemingly calling out the name of your little darling child.

Initially the questioning begins and your child asks to stop and play. As you continue motoring down the cursed aisle seven, the gentle questioning quickly turns to loud demanding and ultimately leads to screaming and body thrashing.

The child that is, not you.

What happened to the perfect Saturday morning of errand running and family bonding? Nobody said anything about including a toddler tantrum in the planning!

When do tantrums occur?We’re all familiar with the term “the terrible twos,” which is often used when describing the, sometimes difficult, developmental stage of toddlerhood and some of the behavioral challenges that can be associated with that age group.

Tantrums can occur much earlier than the dreaded age of two however, and some children can even display this type of behavior as early as 9-12 months. Tantrums are a normal part of child development and, although it can be quite frustrating for us as parents (and those around us in aisle seven); these are experiences that our children are growing and learning from.

What can trigger a tantrum?

I Don't Want To Leave

“I don’t want to leave” (Photo credit: Flickr – Stacy Brunner)

Essentially, a tantrum occurs as a result of the toddler experiencing emotions that are new for them, like frustration or a lack of desired independence or control, and they don’t know how to cope with the new and, often quite strong, emotional responses. They don’t know how to tell us about these emotions, so they react in the only way that they can in an attempt to try and convey to us how they are feeling or what it is that they want.

They might be hungry. They might be tired. They might really, really want that toy car. Luckily for us (insert sarcastic tone here please) the results are wonderful 2 year old tantrums.

If you are able to identify what activities or events are triggering your child’s behavior, keep those triggers documented in a notebook, journal or an app on your smart phone. Be sure to include any behavior of note you witness leading up to a tantrum that may give you clues for future use and allow you to intervene before things get really out of hand.

How do you avoid tantrums?Of course, every child is different and that also includes how frequently they will throw a tantrum, but inevitably they will likely occur. By arming yourself with the data you collected in your tantrum trigger journal, you can work at nipping the behavior in the bud before it becomes a full-fledged tantrum.

Easier said than done, there’s no doubt about that!

The manner in which tantrums are avoided is two-fold: keep the child’s frustration level within a range that they can handle and avoid backing them into a corner, so to speak. Of course, you can’t just let the child run crazy without providing some guidance and authority, but doing so cautiously in a way that allows the toddler to feel that they are making some decisions on their own or that they have maintained some control over what is going on, can go a long way in preventing a tantrum from occurring.

How do you deal with the inevitable tantrum?Dealing with toddler tantrums can definitely test your ability to handle frustration and it may even have you casting self doubt onto your ability to parent. That’s a normal way for a parent to feel, especially if the tantrum is occurring in a public place, but there are some ways to help manage the situation if, and when, it boils over.

Don't Give In

As tempting as it may be, don’t give into your toddler’s demands just to quash a tantrum (Photo credit: Flickr – Jason Anfinsen)

Firstly, if your toddler is throwing a tantrum, try your best to make sure that they’re not going to hurt themselves, or you, during their thrashing. This can sometimes be a challenge, but by clearing away obstacles that are around or by removing the child from a particularly stressful environment, you can help to alleviate this risk. Try to stay calm yourself and don’t get caught up in yelling or attempting to reason with the toddler while they are actively having a tantrum.

Secondly, don’t give in to the child’s demands in an attempt to quash the tantrum. Ignoring it while it’s occurring, remaining as calm as you can and avoiding any negative or positive rewarding after the fact, can help to demonstrate to your toddler that throwing a tantrum provides no benefit to him or her at all, which will hopefully prevent any manipulative tantrums from being thrown in the future.

With that said though, a tantrum thrown out of frustration can be quite frightening and confusing for a toddler, so providing that emotional reassurance that you love them and understand their fear after the fact, is key.

Finally, consistency is very important. As difficult as it may be, your behavior, and response to their behavior, should be the same at home as it is when you’re out in public. If you attempt to bribe your toddler or respond differently to how they’re acting when you’re out, they will soon catch onto that and begin to throw tantrums in an attempt to manipulate you, rather than out of their own frustrations.

Stay strong, and be assured that no one is out there judging your parenting skills. Well, at least not other parents.

Will it ever end?!The good news is that, yes, the tantrum throwing stage of our children’s development will pass (insert cheering here!).

Usually by the age of 3- to 4-years-old, this stressful and character building stage of our parenting life will, thankfully, end and you’ll be full of stories to include in your speech at your child’s wedding in another 20 or 30 years. Just take some long deep breaths and remember to stay out of that pesky aisle seven!

How do you deal with toddler tantrums? Have you discovered some of your kid’s tantrum triggers? If so, what are they?

Latest Comments
  1. April Carvelli

    I was a big fan of the shock factor. I just ignored his temper tantrum and continued on to the next aisle, around the corner, or whatever would get me just out of his sight. When he realized I was gone he was suddenly concerned that mommy was missing and the temper tantrum stopped as he hurried to catch up with me.

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