Tantrums - a parents' survival guide

Little Angels

Despite your best efforts, tantrums are almost a rite of passage for toddlers, as parents, it’s how you deal with them that makes the terrible two’s pass in the blink of an eye or continue on into the terrible threes and beyond.

Tantrums seem to manifest in the most inappropriate places, your friends living room, the supermarket checkout, the doctor’s office, the list goes on. You believe that all is going well, your little angel has the odd pout or throws his favourite toy out of his cot but a full-blown tantrum, surely not?

Have a plan

It is always better to be prepared than to be caught out in the cold. Tantrums are initially a battle of wills, your toddler want’s something and you refuse or he is unable to communicate his needs and his frustration gets the better of him, this results in a full blown explosion, sometimes thrashing around and voluntary head bashing – not a pretty sight, particularly when you’re out and about. Your initial instinct is to give in to his demands or do whatever you can to and put a stop to the chaos before too many people notice.

Unfortunately, this creates future problems. Your child quickly learns, almost instantly, that a tantrum is the key to all of her desires. Whether she has to scream for 2 minutes or has a full blown 20 minute meltdown, if you give in, she will continue to do the same until you learn to give in at the first show of a red face.

Tantrums often start early on in the toddler phase, this is not something your child is doing to drive you crazy, it is a normal part of her development. She is frustrated because she cannot communicate her needs effectively and this turns to anger and tears very quickly.

It is important that you take some time to consider your plan of action. If you toddler goes into tantrum mode, be strong and do not give in. Have a plan for distraction which is the best way to avert a tantrum in younger toddlers. This is easier to do if you’re at home or in familiar surroundings.

If you are out shopping or in a friends garden, you may wish to remove your child to a quiet place and if safe to do so, let them get on with it, reminding them that when they are calm and ready to behave, they can have a cuddle and you will continue on with your day. Do not give in to demands or protests.

Easier said than done

Your actions and reactions as a parent are often very different to your actions and reactions in daily life when it concerns other people. You wouldn’t let an employee or a friend get away with that behaviour yet when it’s your own child, you’d steal sweeties from another baby if it mean stopping your child’s tantrum dead in its tracks.

Make a commitment to yourself now, by dealing with each tantrum in the same way, by staying firm but fair, you will be teaching your child a very valuable life lesson. Rather now than when she’s 14 and determined to get another hour on the games console rather than helping to set the table for dinner. Your children need to learn from you and also need to feel secure within their boundaries.

There are some key points to remember when facing a tot in tantrum mode:

✔ Ignore unwanted behaviour, even negative reactions to bad behaviour can be seen as a reward, your child wanted attention, he has it.

✔ Intervene before your child reaches full toddler meltdown. Use distraction in the early stages of a tantrum, this is often enough to avert any full blown mania before it erupts.

✔ If it is safe to do so and your child cannot be stopped from having a tantrum, remove her to a safe place and tell her firmly but without shouting, that when she has calmed down and is ready, she can come to you for a cuddle and you will find an activity to do together.

✔ Once this takes place, praise your child for her decision to calm down eventually and reward her with a cuddle and some time together. Reinforce this by praising her regularly when she’s doing something well such as sharing, asking politely for things, putting her toys away and then ignore the opposite behaviour. In time, she will learn the ‘rules’.

✔ Older toddlers and pre-schoolers may benefit from a bit of time on the naughty step. This is a variation on the ‘ignore’ tactic but instead you are giving your child a consequence for their behaviour. Choose a place in the house that you can use consistently as a place for your child to have some time to reflect on their behaviour and how they ended up on the naughty step. You may need to return your child to the step multiple times (be prepared to commit to it for long periods initially) until they get the idea that you’ll not give in until they behave and remain on the naughty step for the allocated amount of time, usually a minute for each year of their age.

Rewards and instilling good behaviour

Going further, you can now start to build on the simple processes outlined above. Rewards can be as creative as you like, a start chart, a jar of buttons, a pin board with little achievements pinned to it along the way, all go towards creating a visual reference for your child. They can see how well they are doing and if they continue on with the good behaviour, it leads to an even bigger reward later on.

To recap:

✔ Ignore bad behaviour initially as far as possible

✔ If your child continues on, distract him with another task, toy or activity

✔ Should this not do the trick, you may need to remove your child from the situation and allow them to have their tantrum in a safe environment

✔ Once they are calm, then you can interact with them, explaining that you do not like that behaviour and will only play or talk to them once they are finished having the tantrum.

✔ Older children may be placed on a naughty step until they have been there for the duration of the time allocated (one minute per year in age), then get down to them on their level and explain that you won’t accept that behaviour. Hug them to let them know you love them, but be firm in what you are saying

✔ Reward them with praise once the trantrum is over and they are playing or doing an activity without negative behaviour

It can be helpful to create a reward system, such as a reward chart that your child can use as a tool throughout their day. Perhaps they have eaten their breakfast and brushed their teeth without making a fuss, did they tidy up their toys after playing, was dinner eaten, did they bath and go to bed without any problems? Make up your own system and reward them based on what is important to your family values, make sure that what you expect is age appropriate and that they are rewarded accordingly.

Do not revoke rewards for good behaviour that has already taken place. Your child can collect say 10 stars and then have a bigger treat once they have collected all 10 stars, do not remove stars that they have already earned as this will undermine the effectiveness of the original reward for previous good behaviour.

Do not revoke rewards for good behaviour that has already taken place. Your child can collect say 10 stars and then have a bigger treat once they have collected all 10 stars, do not remove stars that they have already earned as this will undermine the effectiveness of the original reward for previous good behaviour.


However carefully researched the material in this information guide might be, it is not possible to guarantee its accuracy or completeness. The author and distributor therefore accept no liability for any inaccuracies or any loss or damage arising from the use of or reliance on details obtained from this information guide. Please ensure that you check the current government recommendations relating to the information shared within this guide.

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