How to Deal with Toddler Tantrums

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Is your little one throwing tantrums? Learn how to prevent the toddler tantrums in the first place and how to deal with them once they occur.

I stared at my watch. It was past 6 p.m., an hour and a half after I got home from picking up my son from school. During that hour and a half, he demanded that I turn around and bring him back to school. During that hour and a half, he had a meltdown of epic proportions.

He would not get out of the car. He would not listen and kept screaming and crying. A few of our neighbors stuck their heads out the door to see what was happening, and a couple even offered to come help.

It seemed like every time I tried to touch him or talk to him he would get more upset, so I decided to leave him alone. I opened the windows a little, closed the car door and let him yell it out while I watched from the garage to make sure he didn’t open the door and run out into the street.

Almost 2 hours later, he seemed to have quieted down a little, so I opened the car door, gave him a hug, and asked if he wanted to come into the house now. He nodded, still sobbing, and I was able to pick him up and bring him into the house to console him.

“Love is a Battlefield.” Yes, that is true. But you know what else is like a battlefield? Being a mother of a toddler. Dealing with toddler tantrums is like defusing a bomb. You make the wrong choice, and the tantrum explodes into a full-blown meltdown, where the toddler has completely lost control of his/her emotions and ability to reason.

The good news is that many tantrums are avoidable, and you just have to watch out for the triggers that set off the bomb in the first place. The bad news is that you have a toddler, and tantrums are going to happen, no matter how careful you are.

Prevention, Prevention, Prevention.

After surviving the terrible two’s, you sort of develop some kind of spider-sense. Most of the time, I can sense the tantrum coming, and instead of preparing to fight it head-on, I play defense and look for ways to prevent it instead.

1. Make sure they are not tired.

My son is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde depending on if he got enough rest that day. If he had a bad night or skipped a much-needed nap, I know I need to watch out for incoming tantrums. I give him a little more slack than usual and do everything possible to get him to bed as soon as possible. If he doesn’t finish all his dinner or clean up all his toys, just let it go and move on… Sometimes, you have to lose the battle to win the war.

2. Avoid trigger words.

“Silence is golden,” a phrase that may save you from many tantrums. It’s like playing chess – always think hard before you let any words leave your mouth and think always 3 steps ahead about how your toddler will react before you speak.

For example, if I want Alex to finish dinner, I avoid mentioning any other food items until he is done. If I say, “When you finish we can eat fruits,” I know right away he will demand fruits because, you know, how dare mommy tells him what to do.

3. Set expectations.

I find that if you set expectations ahead of time, my son gets less upset than when he is caught off-guard. For example, when he finishes eating his much-loved fruit strips and realizes that I don’t have another one, he reacts like I just threw his favorite toy in the garbage. Therefore, before I even give him a fruit strip, I tell him that mommy only brought one so he should eat it slowly and savor it because there is no more after this one. He nods to indicate that he understands and just hands me the wrapper after he is done.

4. Remove trigger objects.

If you don’t want him to have the scissors, why leave them around where he can see them? And what’s with a toddler’s obsession with sharp objects anyway? Remove all items that he cannot have – and therefore he must not get his hands on – from the room. I cannot count the number of times my husband creates a diversion while I throw the trigger object into a drawer or a closet. Out of sight, out of mind!

5. Distract from the issue at hand.

Once the tantrum starts, it’s difficult to create a distraction because all of the toddler’s focus is on crying as loud and hard as possible. Therefore, distract the toddler beforehand to avoid the tantrum.

For example, your toddler sees a pair of scissors on the table and you can tell he is about to reach for it. Throw his attention off the scissors with another toy or another task (“oh my goodness look at how dirty your hands are, let’s go wash your hands!”). Hide the scissors when he is distracted so that when he does turn his attention back to the table, the scissors are no longer there.

6. Curb the hunger.

Your toddler may be acting out because he/she is hungry but doesn’t know how to communicate it. If your toddler seems to be on the edge of a tantrum, offer some healthy snacks to make sure that their tummies are happy. Even if he/she is not hungry, sometimes the snack will serve as a distraction and calm him/her down.

7. Be patient.

I find that sometimes, I am the one causing the tantrums by going head to head with a stubborn toddler because I am too impatient to deal with my whiny son any other way. However, if I stay calm and try and convince him to do what I want by calmly asking him or offering him some incentive, he actually listens.

Related Post: How to Discipline Your Strong-Willed Child

How to Handle Toddler Tantrums

Okay, you did your best to prevent toddler tantrums, but one erupted anyway. What’s the plan to control the damage and cease the tantrum as soon as possible?

1. Stay calm.

You know how your emotions get all wacky when menstruating and you get angry over the smallest things? Remember how you almost ripped your husband’s head off for saying you forgot to pick up dry-cleaning?

Well, that’s how toddlers feel when they feel angry and stress hormones overwhelm their body and intensify their emotions. Therefore, they look to you, parental unit, for support. If you start throwing a tantrum of your own, the rock they have been depending on is no longer there, and consequently, their tantrums escalate.

So, stay calm and speak in a composed voice at all times. If you feel like yelling, go to your bedroom and scream into a pillow or take a deep breath and count to 10 in your head – just don’t let your toddler see that you feel like losing it.

2. Time-In or Time-Out.

Not every battle can be won by using the same strategy. Sometimes, what your toddler needs is hugs, cuddles, and kisses to tame the furious beast. In that case, sit in a quiet corner with your toddler and provide as much comfort as much as possible.

Other times, the best is to leave your toddler alone and let him/her let off steam – just make sure that he/she is in a safe environment. My son has kicked me out of the time-out room before because he just felt like being alone, and after 2 minutes of screaming and flailing, he slowly calmed down and came out of the room like a whole new person. So, step back, assess the situation, and decide whether a time-in or a time-out is the answer.

3. Hold back the urge to reason.

When the tantrum is in full effect, it’s better to hold back and not engage. Since we are adults, we want to talk things through and understand why they are so angry in the first place. However, toddlers cannot reason during a tantrum and therefore trying to do so may make matters worse. Focus on calming them down before talking it over.

4. Look, a truck!

Distractions also work to break the tantrum. My favorite day of the week is Thursday because I know somewhere in between getting my son from school and bedtime, a garbage truck is coming. In that time frame, if a tantrum happens, I know that if I cannot calm him down, the garbage truck will.

Just make sure you don’t reward your toddler for throwing a tantrum by giving him a new toy or a sweet treat as a distraction. Also, after the tantrum has subsided and distraction gone, make sure to round back and talk about what happened.

5. Be sympathetic.

Sometimes, toddlers throw a tantrum because they feel like their emotions are not acknowledged. Some things, like flushing the toilet, is an afterthought to us, but a huge deal to them. So instead of dismissing their emotions by saying, “You shouldn’t be angry over something so small,” say something like “I am sorry you are upset” instead.

6. Hug it out.

Think back to the last time you had a massage. Remember how relaxed and calm you felt afterward? While I am not saying giving your toddler a massage during a tantrum is a good idea, a big hug or tight squeeze might do the trick. Your child may be throwing a tantrum due to sensory overload, and providing pressure on the body may help calm their nervous system. Plus, a good squeeze not only grounds you child but also restores calmness for you as well.

Related Post: 13 Powerful Ways to Make Your Child Feel Loved and Valued

One Tantrum Down, Many More to Go

Now that you have managed to calm your toddler down, remember to always make the tantrum a teaching moment. Snuggle up with your toddler and recap what had just happened as if you are telling a story. Capture the events that led up to the tantrum and the emotions your toddler felt during the tantrum. Maybe the next time the same thing happens your toddler will have learned how to react properly instead of throwing a tantrum.

Life with a toddler is a battlefield. You win some, you lose some. Take the time to observe your toddler so that you can see a tantrum coming from far away. Even though it feels like walking through a minefield at times, you should be able to prevent tantrums from happening. And even if a tantrum does transpire, breathe, stay calm, and remember that your toddler depends on you to help calm him/her down. Toddlers are learning how to control their emotions with these tantrums, and before you know it, they will be all grown-up and we will be the ones that need them for emotional support!

How do you deal with toddler tantrums?

Is your little one throwing tantrums? Learn how to prevent the toddler tantrums in the first place and how to deal with them once they occur. #mombrite #toddlertantrums

29 thoughts on “How to Deal with Toddler Tantrums”

  1. Thankfully, my kids never had those full-blown temper tantrums in public. I think being overly tired is one of the main triggers for temper tantrums. Even I have a tendency to get grumpy and sometimes want to pitch a fit when I’m tired. 🙂

  2. Haha, I remember those days. I always just walked away and ignored them. It worked like a charm 🙂

  3. My youngest granddaughter had (and still does) terrible tantrums. It was so much easier with my kids, lol. I guess because I was with them all the time and knew when one was coming on. I learned to avoid them.

  4. WOW! That was quite the temper tantrum! I am glad you were able to let him just work it out. Sometimes that is all they need to do. These are all great tips and spot on!!!

  5. Rebecca Swenor

    These are great tips on dealing with an explosive toddler’s tantrum. It is important I believe that they don’t get a reaction out of you when they are throwing a tantrum. I love the idea of telling them you are sorry that they are upset. Thanks for sharing these tips.

  6. My granddaughter has just entered the tantrum stage. These are real tips for any parents of toddlers who are dealing with this.

  7. Staying calm is tough! My kids aren’t toddlers anymore, but I had one who had tantrums all the time and one who seriously never has. Like.. never. Is he going to be an explosive teen??

  8. Parents blessed with kids not like this are lucky. I think paying an extra attention to kids like this can help them to calm up. And little by little try to train and change their attitude.

  9. I am so thankful that my daughter did not have the big tantrums that I have seen other children have. She did have a couple that I remember but usually they were triggered by arguments between her parents, and they did not have to do with her at all. So mostly I felt bad when she was having them, and not mad or upset.

  10. Sometimes I would throw myself on the floor and have a tantrum to and they would just laugh and move on. Others times I just let them cry it out. I try to take them to the store right when they wake up or after a nap otherwise they are crazy. These are great tips!

  11. If you lose it, you’re the loser. Lol. It’s really important to be calm throughout all the crying and screaming. These are great tips on how to survive it and eventually put a stop to it. Patience is a virtue.

  12. Annemarie LeBlanc

    My 17 month old grandson is showing signs of trying to get his way by screaming. It is the most annoying, high pitched scream that can come out of a tiny body. When he does that, I usually ignore him. I go and do other things or distract him by eating. The sight of food makes him stop and ask for a bite. 🙂

  13. This is one of the most difficult things parents have to deal with in raising their children. I got through this phase by ignoring them. When we were somewhere and come across a screaming child, I tell my kids, “Look at that child. Do you really want to do that?” I guess they realize that it is not good behavior and they listened.

  14. Ugh, toddler tantrums are the absolute WORST. I love this article because all of those photos definitely gave me a good laugh. So glad we are past the toddler stage!

  15. One should be very careful WHEN one hugs the child after a tantrum. If he was being naughty, that is, had a tantrum over something he KNEW he can’t have/do, then that is naughty and should not be rewarded with a hug. (A hug can come a little while later when he is in a different frame of mind and will associate the reward with his good feelings, not the bad ones.)
    If the child is tired out or stressed out or over sensitized, obviously HELP him as soon as the meltdown is over.
    Also, I read somewhere when they are in full blown tantrum mode they actually can’t hear you. So one has to wait til it is over.
    I found it odd that you pressure touch your child when he’s having a tantrum. I find that that is the last thing mine wants. (Like when I’m “pms crazy” I hate to be touched.) I guess everyone is different 🙂

    I love that you take the time to talk with your little one afterward about what happened and that you make an effort to validate their feelings. Sometimes people, even little people, just want to feel heard.
    A lovely article. I can’t imagine what that 2 hour car tantrum must have been like. You did the right thing and sound like a great mom. 🙂

    My boy is autistic and prevention is key to avoiding meltdowns. Routine and regulation is key. I assume it works for neuro-typical children as well.

    1. Thanks for reading! Yes every child is different and even every situation is different. Sometimes my son doesn’t want to be touched but sometimes he needs a tight hug to calm down. I can’t imagine your situation and it sounds like you are a fantastic mom who knows how to prevent tantrums!

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