Your toddler's second temper tantrum of the day shows no signs of stopping, and supersonic, ear-shattering, teeth-jarring screams pierce the air. You'd run away and join the circus if only that were a real option. There must be a better way.
During the kicking-and-screaming chaos of the moment, tantrums can be downright frustrating. But instead of looking at them as disasters, treat tantrums as opportunities for education.
Temper tantrums range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting, and breath holding. They're equally common in boys and girls and usually happen between the ages of 1 to 3.
Some kids may have tantrums often, and others have them rarely. Tantrums are a normal part of child development. They are the way young children show they're upset or frustrated.
Tantrums may happen when kids are tired, hungry, or uncomfortable; or because they can't get something (for example, an object or a parent) to do what they want. Learning to deal with frustration is a skill that children gain over time.
Tantrums are common during the second year of life, a time when language skills are starting to develop. Because toddlers can't yet say what they want, feel, or need, a frustrating experience may cause a tantrum. As language skills improve, tantrums tend to decrease.
Toddlers want independence and control over their environment — more than they may be capable of handling. This can lead to power struggles as a child thinks "I can do it myself" or "I want it, give it to me." When kids discover that they can't do it and can't have everything they want, they may have a tantrum.
Try to prevent tantrums from happening in the first place, whenever possible. Here are some ideas that may help:
If a safety issue is involved and a toddler repeats the forbidden behavior after being told to stop, use a time-out or hold the child firmly for several minutes. Be consistent. Don't give in on safety issues.
Most important, keep your cool when responding to a tantrum. Don't complicate the problem with your own frustration or anger. Remind yourself that your job is helping your child learn to calm down. So you need to be calm, too.
Your actions set an example for your child. Hitting and spanking don't help. And they send the message that using force and physical punishment is OK. That can result in more negative behaviors over the long run. Instead, have enough self-control for both of you.
Tantrums should be handled differently depending on why your child is upset. Sometimes, you may need to provide comfort. Other times, its best to ignore an outburst and distract your child with a new activity. If your child is tired or hungry, it's time for a nap or a snack. If a tantrum happens after your child is refused something, stay calm and don't give a lot of explanations for why your child can't have what he wants. Try to find something he can have. Move on to another activity with your child.
Kids who are in danger of hurting themselves or others during a tantrum should be taken to a quiet, safe place to calm down. This also applies to tantrums in public places.
Preschoolers and older kids are more likely to use tantrums to get their way if they've learned that this behavior works. Once kids have started school, it's appropriate to send them to their rooms to cool off.
Rather than setting a specific time limit, tell your child to stay in the room until he or she regains control. This is empowering — kids can affect the outcome by their own actions, and thus gain a sense of control that was lost during the tantrum. However, if the time-out is for negative behavior (such as hitting) in addition to a tantrum, set a time limit.
Do not reward your child's tantrum by giving in. This will only prove to your little one that the tantrum was effective. Instead, verbally praise a child for regaining control.
Also, kids may be especially vulnerable after a tantrum when they know they've been less than adorable. Now (when your child is calm) is the time for a hug and reassurance that your child is loved, no matter what.
Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. With too little sleep, kids can become hyper, disagreeable, and have extremes in behavior. Getting enough sleep can dramatically reduce tantrums. Find out how much sleep is needed at your child’s age. Most kids' sleep needs fall within a set range of hours based on their age, but each child has his or her own distinct sleep needs.
Talk to your doctor if:
Your doctor also can check for any health problems that may add to the tantrums, although this is not common. Sometimes, hearing or vision problems, a chronic illness, language delays, or a learning disability can make kids more likely to have tantrums.
Remember, tantrums usually aren't cause for concern and generally stop on their own. As kids mature, they gain self-control. They learn to cooperate, communicate, and cope with frustration. Less frustration and more control mean fewer tantrums — and happier parents.
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: April 2015
|American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) AACAP offers up-to-date information on child and adolescent development and issues.|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|How Can Parents Discipline Without Spanking? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Breath-Holding Spells Kids who have these spells hold their breath until they pass out. Although upsetting to watch, the spells are not harmful and do not pose any serious, long-term health risks.|
|Separation Anxiety Teary and tantrum-filled goodbyes are common with separation anxiety, which is a perfectly normal part of childhood development.|
|Disciplining Your Toddler Reeling in your active little one can be tough. But setting limits now helps prevent bigger problems down the road.|
|Disciplining Your Child With Special Needs Here's how to set boundaries and communicate your expectations in a nurturing, loving way.|
|Delayed Speech or Language Development Knowing what's "normal" and what's not in speech and language development can help you figure out if you should be concerned or if your child is right on schedule.|
|Talking to Your Child's Preschool Teacher Enrolling your little one in preschool can be a time filled with many questions. Find out how to establish an open, clear channel of communication with your child's preschool teacher.|
|Nine Steps to More Effective Parenting Parenting is incredibly challenging and rewarding. Here are nine child-rearing tips that can help.|
|Disciplining Your Child It's important to be consistent about discipline. If you don't stick to the rules and consequences, kids aren't likely to either. Find out how to vary your approach to fit your family.|
|Teaching Your Child Self-Control Tantrums and outbursts can rile even the most patient parents. Helping kids learn self-control teaches them how to respond to situations without just acting on impulse.|
|Taming Tempers Controlling outbursts can be difficult for kids - and helping them learn to do so is a tough job for the parents who love them. But just about every child can improve with the right coaching.|
|Babysitting: Dealing With Temper Tantrums Kids don't have the skills to control their tempers the way we can, so tantrums are a fact of life for most babysitters. Find out how to tame tempers and get advice on avoiding a meltdown in the first place.|
|Train Your Temper Everyone gets angry sometimes. Does your temper ever get out of control? Find out how to put a leash on it.|
|Your Child's Habits Nail biting, hair twirling, thumb sucking, and nose picking - these childhood habits are common. Here's how to deal with them.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.