Dealing with Toddler Tantrums

For this post I used advice from Dr Sears from

Identify the triggers
Is he tired, bored, hungry or frustrated? Keeping a tantrum journal will clue you in to what sets your child off. For example, if tantrums occur when she/he’s overwhelmed by lots of other children, stay alert to this trigger and intervene before your little volcano erupts. One of my children would crumble whenever he tried to retrieve a toy stuck under the couch or to stack a tower of blocks that kept toppling. When we saw him engaging in either activity, we would simply sit down and help—always being careful to show him how to do it, rather than to do it for him. You want to assume the role of facilitator for your child, teaching him to perform feats more easily or redirecting him to less frustrating activities. It also helps to know your child’s pre-tantrum signals (body language, facial expressions). Quickly step in when you see them crop up.

Identify the purpose of the tantrums
Tantrums come in two forms: frustration tantrums and manipulative tantrums. Frustration tantrums require your empathy and support. These emotional outbursts an opportunity to get closer to your child and to teach him to value you as a helpful, comforting resource. If he gets stuck trying to climb higher than he’s able, for example, offer him a helping hand. Your support is especially valuable if he’s going through the “I do it myself” stage.

Manipulative tantrums (“I’ll throw a fit until I get my way!”) need to be parented more creatively. If your child is throwing an obviously manipulative tantrum, don’t indulge him. Simply be on standby a few feet away, making it clear that you’re there to help him when he calms down and asks for what he needs in a more appropriate manner. Your child will gradually get the message that undesirable behavior gets him nowhere. Other times, you’ll just have to offer a substitute (“You can’t play with the knife, but you can play with a spoon”) and explain the reason.

Teach him alternative ways of expressing his feelings
Part of childhood development is learning what language gets one’s needs met and what doesn’t. When your son is yelling and screaming, calmly put your hand on his shoulders, look him in the eye, and say, “Use your nice voice, and tell Mommy what you need.”

Know your anger tolerance
If you lose patience easily when your child throws a tantrum, know when to walk away. Count to ten (or more!) so that you can gather your thoughts and react calmly. Remember, your child is simply acting his age. You aren’t responsible for his tantrum, nor for stopping it. When a toddler loses control, he should at least be able to count on the adults to stay in control.

Know when to intervene
Some children get themselves so worked up during a tantrum that they vomit. Others may deliberately hold their breath and, on occasion, even pass out. In these cases, “holding therapy” works best. Hold your child in a relaxed and comforting way (even if he squirms) and reassure him with the most soothing voice you can muster. The message you’re trying to convey is that he’s lost control and you’re there to help him regain it. Later in life, when your child is past the tantrum stage, his memories of calm during the stormy behavior will prove valuable.