Taming Toddler Temper Tantrums

How to Deal With Toddler Temper Tantrums

You take your toddler to the park and spend a blissful few hours watching them swing, slide and play with other kids. But when it’s time to leave, your child has an epic temper tantrum complete with crying, stomping, yelling and thrashing. And like so many parents before you, you wonder what to do next. Mercy Kids experts suggest these strategies to help you and your child ― before, during and after the next tantrum.

What to Do Before a Temper Tantrum

  • Know that tantrums are normal. Throwing tantrums is normal and common at ages 1-4. Toddlers haven’t developed coping skills yet and are still learning to express emotions.
  • Be proactive. Recognize tantrum triggers. Do they happen when your child is hungry, tired, sick or frustrated? Plan errands and outings around their mealtimes and naps. Take a healthy snack and a small toy along. And prepare your child for big changes like leaving the park. You can say, “One more time on the swing, and then we’ll go home.”
  • Praise good behavior. Call out good behavior when you see it. Praise makes your child feel positive about the behavior and proud of their accomplishment. And giving your kid a hug, high five or fist bump for behaving well makes the moment memorable.
  • Set a good example. Your child learns a lot from watching your behavior, so be aware of your own response to stress. Avoid overacting, and model how to express frustration without getting angry and yelling. 

What to Do During a Temper Tantrum

Even if you do your best to avoid tantrums, they’ll still happen. So then what?

  • Stay calm. If you react with frustration, it may escalate the tantrum. Try to keep calm and still. In mid-tantrum, don’t argue with or threaten your child. Speak to them quietly.
  • Try distraction. Kids have short attention spans, and small changes can break the tension. Try moving to a new room or location and point out something interesting in it. Make a funny face or sing a song.
  • Take a break. Don’t go it alone. Take turns with another parent, a relative or a friend when your frustration peaks.
  • Offer choices. Give your child control over little things by offering small, directed choices with options. “Do you want to lay on the bed, or would you like to look at a book?”
  • Be consistent but realistic. Consistency is key. Reinforce the rules and what’s acceptable behavior with every tantrum. But realistically, you’ll end up surrendering at times.
  • Address out-of-bounds behavior. Don’t ignore behaviors like biting, hitting or kicking. Call them out right away and explain the consequence, such as losing a toy or privilege.
  • Limit attention. Remember this formula: behavior + attention = more behavior. Giving tantrums too much attention may increase them. Instead, allow your child to cool down on their own in a quiet and safe space.

What to Do After a Temper Tantrum

  • Talk about it. Have a conversation with your child about the tantrum and their behavior. Calmly explain the rules, such as not getting upset when it’s time to go home.
  • Name the feelings. Acknowledge your child’s feelings by naming them. You can say, “You felt sad and mad when it was time to leave.” Help your child learn the words they’ll need to express their feelings without a tantrum.
  • Teach coping skills. Talk about what your child can do next time like taking deep breaths. Demonstrate deep breathing by teaching your child to “fill their balloon” (inhale) while raising their arms and “empty their balloon” (exhale) while bringing their arms down.
  • Monitor tantrums over time. You should start to see fewer tantrums around age 4. But if they persist or get worse, or your child harms themselves or others, or holds their breath to the point of fainting, talk with a Mercy Kids caregiver.

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