tantrums: dealing with your toddler

toddler having a tantrum

Most of us will have become angry at some point in our lives, when we feel like hitting out or throwing something, even if, on the outside, we have kept our temper. That is the kind of feeling that toddlers have when they cannot communicate what they want and how they feel. The result, often, is a tantrum.

You might hear about the 'terrible twos', when your formerly placid baby becomes a screaming kicking mass - usually at the supermarket checkout. They can see what they want - some sweets or a toy, for example - but, if you have said no, they can't see how they can get it. Young children do not have the understanding or reasoning skills, the experience or the communication skills to talk through a disagreement with their parents. They live in a 'now' time with little idea of the future. They cannot cope with having to wait for what they want - it must be now. The result is a tantrum as a means of communicating the frustration they feel.

It can be difficult to accept that tantrums are a perfectly normal part of child development, especially in the middle of what can be a time of stress with emotions running high. The vast majority of toddlers will have tantrums. Some children build up more of a head of steam than others, and what happens several times a day with one child will only happen every now and again with another. This is all absolutely normal.

coping with a tantrum

Dealing with a tantrum is easier said than done. The child is frustrated and angry, and you may also be caught up in the emotion of the moment, however hard you try not to be. You may want to do anything to stop the tantrum. You may feel embarrassed and ashamed about the tantrum and feel that it is somehow a reflection of you as a parent; try to keep a cool head.

You cannot reason with a child in a tantrum, there is no point in attempting any kind of discussion until it is all over.

  • do your best to keep your emotions out of it. If you get angry it will only feed the spiral of emotions and make things worse; some parents find it helpful to deliberately 'go robotic' to keep their own feelings in check
  • it might be a good idea to say that you are leaving the room or that you will walk away; then go somewhere you can see your child, but your child can't see you; usually, without an audience, your child will stop screaming
  • try to develop a thick skin; do what you need to do and ignore the attention of other people, if they are rude enough to stare
  • make an effort to hug the child and talk soothingly into his ears; they can often frighten themselves by the sheer strength of their own emotions
  • reassure the child, acknowledging how they are feeling - 'you must be feeling very cross', 'I can see that you are very angry'
  • if appropriate you can pick up your child when in a tantrum and take them away from any attention
  • don't smack - it does not help and only increases the level of violence and emotion in the situation, remember, children learn by copying!
  • it is best not to give in to the tantrum, if the child learns you change your mind if they have a tantrum, they will use the power of a tantrum to get their own way
  • if you feel you are not coping well with a tantrum, make sure your child is safe and call a friend to talk it over - a rational friend who is not caught up in the situation can help you see things in perspective