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Toddler Temper Tantrums

About 80% of all 2- to 4-year-olds have tantrums. If your child is having a tantrum, stay calm. Your calm reaction to an emotional outburst can help her settle down and provide her with a positive model.

Keep in mind that tantrums are not intentional or planned—they are the natural, uncontrolled outpouring of emotions your child is having difficulty dealing with.

Causes of tantrums include:

  • Transitions in a child’s day or changes in a routine
  • The need to be in control, combined with the frustration of not being able to verbalize desires clearly
  • Tiredness or fatigue

How to Handle a Tantrum

If you see a tantrum coming on, try letting your toddler know that you understand what he’s feeling. Sometimes acknowledging those feelings is all that’s needed to calm him down and move on.

If a tantrum starts, the best thing to do is to make sure your toddler is safe and then try your best to ignore the tantrum. When it stops, pay positive attention to your toddler, rewarding him for getting the tantrum under control. Don’t have a conversation afterward, just move on.

If your toddler has a tantrum in public, patience, understanding, and a willingness to leave will get you both through it.

Heading Off a Tantrum

You know that your toddler’s building agitation is usually due to frustration and feeling out of control. But how do you stop it from becoming a full-blown tantrum?

Try letting him know that you understand what he’s feeling. “I know you’re upset that it’s bedtime and you want to keep playing.”

Sometimes acknowledging those feelings is all that’s needed to calm him down and move on. “Let’s have fun getting ready to go to bed. We can brush our teeth together and then read a story.”

Tantrums at Age 1

A 1-year-old throwing a temper tantrum may have you wondering what your child will be like down the road. While many people associate tantrums with “the terrible twos,” these often do begin well before age 2.

In fact, tantrums peak between ages 1 and 3. They’re usually a means of getting attention or expressing that the child is uncomfortable (tired, sick, hurt, etc.).

It helps to understand that a toddler whines, screams, hits, kicks or even holds his breath because he doesn’t know how to express himself more constructively.

Tantrums are normal and should gradually decrease over time. In the meantime, if you anticipate a tantrum coming, try comforting words, a gentle hug, or distracting your child with a favorite toy, an interesting object or a song. Once the tantrum starts, the best thing to do is ignore it as long as the child is in a safe place and pay positive attention immediately when the child is able to stop.

You may have to remove your toddler to a safe and quiet place until he or she calms down.

Disciplining Your Toddler

When it comes to discipline, it's better to prevent undesired behavior before it happens. To do this:

  • Make sure your rules are clear and that your child understands them. A toddler who doesn’t know the rules doesn’t know he’s breaking them.
  • Model good behavior by following those rules yourself. After all, toddlers learn from their parents.
  • Remember that toddlers have very little impulse control. Removing temptations before they become problems can help you avoid having to discipline your child.

If your child does break a rule or act out in anger, experts recommend discipline rather than punishment. This means the emphasis is on teaching your child how to behave.

Here’s how to do this when unwanted behavior occurs:

  • Clearly and firmly say "no" and remove your child from the situation.
  • Distract him with a toy or another activity.
  • Use time-outs sparingly—only for very negative behavior—and don’t keep him in it for more than a minute or two.
  • Remain consistent with your rules and consequences.

Why Toddlers Shriek

Has your toddler developed a habit of screaming loudly? It’s not unusual for very young children to do this for attention—or even because they like to hear themselves.

Make sure your child isn’t injured or in pain, but then try not to give the outburst any attention. The more attention he receives, the more frequently he’ll scream.

If you’re in a public place, you may have to remove him to a quieter setting, but don’t acknowledge the scream.