Taming Toddler Tantrums: Positive Parenting Tips
Toddler Tantrums. Sigh. Just when you thought you had your sweet precious baby all figured out, your child enters toddlerhood and throws everything you thought you knew about them out the window. Sound familiar?
You’ve probably been bracing yourself for the “terrible twos” and “threenager” stage everyone talks about, but now that it’s here, you may be at a loss for how to make sense of your toddler’s seemingly erratic and frustrating behavior.
This was me. I became so concerned with my child’s temper tantrums that I researched endlessly and read numerous books on parenting young toddlers. The more I started understanding toddler development, the more I was able to connect with my daughter and focus on teaching instead of discipline.
Parenting young children can be challenging, but there are a few effective strategies you can adopt to restore the peace in your home.
Why toddlers have tantrums
Although they’re called “terrible twos,” tantrums can start shortly after your child turns 1 and last until they turn 4. Tantrums may look differently on each child, but they’re usually explosive outbursts (sometimes over seemingly little things).
They may involve your child flinging themselves to the floor, screaming, crying, and throwing things (“I don’t want the purple cup, I want the red one!!!”). It can be especially disarming when their temper tantrums occur in public places.
It may seem that toddlers are being mean or manipulative, but in fact toddler tantrums are a normal part of their development process. Your child’s brain is developing quickly during this time, but they still lack the ability to control their impulses and think logically. They may also lack the language skills to effectively communicate what they want and need. At the same time, they are learning and desiring to be independent and want to have a sense of control.
Toddlers typically have tantrums when they’re frustrated and they’re having a hard time expressing those big emotions. Your child’s behavior could be triggered by a number of things like:
- Tired or not enough sleep.
- Being told “no” or they can’t do something.
- Fear or anxiety.
- Your child’s overall temperament.
How to successfully deal with your toddler’s tantrums
Here are the best ways for handling your toddler’s tantrums using positive parenting strategies:
As difficult as it might seem, the first step for dealing with toddler tantrums is to take a deep breath, remain calm and be mindful of your own response. There’s no need to get into a power struggle. Your child is learning from you how to manage their own frustration and anger.
So if you yell or spank them, that might be teaching them to yell and hit when they get angry. I’ve seen this in my own daughter. The more I yelled, the more she yelled, and it became a vicious cycle!
Teach instead of discipline.
Instead, hold back your initial impulse to yell and discipline, and use the opportunity as a teaching lesson. Punishments are typically ineffective on toddlers because they’re not addressing the cause of the negative behavior and aren’t teaching your child how to regulate their behavior.
Because they haven’t learned how they should behave next time they feel frustrated or angry, the tantrums continue and may even get worse.
Address the root of the tantrum.
Focus on addressing the root of the problem, whether it’s hunger, overstimulation, etc., to see if that will help calm your child. If you notice a pattern of outbursts during a certain time of day or before a certain event, then you can take steps to plan for that situation. You will start to realize your child’s limits during the day and be able to test possible solutions.
For example, if your child seems overtired or overstimulated in the evenings, plan to wind them down in a calm environment or put them to bed earlier.
Acknowledge your child’s feelings.
Try not to discount your child’s feelings. While their reason for anger may seem silly to you, to them it’s a big deal. Acknowledging their feelings by saying “I see you’re mad because ___ happened” can help teach them how to verbalize their feelings and prevent their tantrum from escalating.
Let the tantrum happen.
Yes, that’s correct. We should normalize children expressing their emotions instead of constantly trying to repress them. Letting out frustrations is emotionally healthy and necessary. Allow your child to experience their big feelings as long as they’re safe doing so and wait until they’re calm to address them.
Set clear consistent limits.
The more inconsistent you are about the limits you set, the more your child will keep pushing against them. Set clear rules, repeat them to your child frequently, and follow through with appropriate circumstandes.
For example, my daughter throws things when she gets angry. Yelling at her to stop never helped, and in fact, just made it worse. Now when she throws something, I calmly tell her “I know you’re mad this happened, but we don’t throw things when we’re mad. Let’s take this away for now.” And then I take whatever she threw away from her. Having done this repeatedly and consistently, my daughter rarely throws things when she’s mad anymore.
Common Questions About Toddler Tantrums
Is there any way to prevent tantrums?
Tantrums are common at this age and they are going to happen. So while you can’t always prevent them, you can diffuse them so there are fewer tantrums. As mentioned above, planning your day strategically to avoid certain triggers for your child and setting clear, consistent limits with appropriate consequences can really help minimize or stop a tantrum.
How do I stay calm during a tantrum?
It can be very difficult to stay calm during a tantrum, especially when an outburst happens in a grocery store or during an inconvenient time like when you’re running late. It’s important to take a breather and become aware of your own emotions before responding.
Remind yourself that your toddler is a child who is having a tough time, and you are the adult who is modeling good behavior for them. They are not capable of regulating their strong emotions, they need your help and guidance.
Can’t I just ignore their tantrums?
In my experience, ignoring a tantrum won’t make it go away, and will likely make it worse. Sometimes the root of the tantrum is that they’re craving your attention, like when my daughter sees me feeding her baby brother. A child would prefer negative attention over no attention at all!
Ignoring her won’t solve the issue, but connecting with her can enforce positive behavior. Use the opportunity to put your toddler on your lap and give them a big hug. Do something together, like read a book. Once they’re calm, you can teach them and kindly correct them about what they should do next time.
What if my toddler starts hitting or biting?
Because toddlers lack impulse control, they usually don’t intend to hurt anyone. Hitting may come as a natural reaction from a stressor such as overstimulation or frustration. They have limited language and social skills and may not know how to express these strong feelings, so they hit or bite.
It’s your job to stay calm, gently stop them from hitting, and teach them what to do instead. For example, when you see your child hitting, grab her hands or carry her away to a safe place, look her in the eyes and firmly tell her “I know you are mad, but we don’t hit each other. If you’re mad, use your words. Tell me you’re mad.” or “He took your toy and that made you upset. We don’t hit people. Next time, ask for your toy back nicely or ask an adult for help.” Be consistent and do this every time it happens and with practice, your child will learn the correct way to handle those situations.
Whatever you do, resist the urge to hit them in response. This will only reinforce the idea that it’s okay to hit other people. Remember, you set the example.
Am I letting my kid off too easy?
Punishing and yelling will not help build trust and connection with your child. If we want to raise children that are emotionally intelligent and empathetic, it’s our responsibilities as parents to show them how. Children need boundaries to feel safe and supported, so set clear rules that you communicate to your child and follow through consistently. Use positive discipline by focusing on your role as a teacher instead of a punisher. Teach them how to solve problems and help them practice making good decisions.
When should I worry about my toddler’s tantrums?
Although tantrums during the toddler phase are normal, sometimes tantrums are a sign of a more serious physical or psychological issue. If your child is frequently harming themselves and others, holding their breath to the point of almost passing out, or exhibiting more severe and uncontrollable tantrums as they get older, it may be a good time to talk to your pediatrician or a child psychologist and get some additional help.
The Last Thing You Need to Know about Toddler Tantrums
The toddler years may be difficult ones to deal with, but these too shall pass. Most children have less tantrums as they develop impulse control and logical thinking, typically after they turn 4. Use this time to teach your child essential skills of empathy, problem-solving, and communication and you will see your child blossom out of this phase into a loving and emotionally intelligent individual.
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