Let's Do This. Temper Tantrums (Part 1)

I receive so many questions about temper tantrums I can't begin to list them all. It is time to address this most frustrating and embarrassing of parenting experiences.

This will be a 2, maybe 3 part series. Tune in next Monday (and maybe Tuesday) as we talk about ways to handle tantrums before, during and after.

The key to stopping a temper tantrum is to never give in to the outburst. The more attention you give to the tantrum, the longer the outburst lasts. Ignore the tantrum.

You can expect that kids between the ages of 1 and 3 will throw a tantrum or two. Kids throw temper tantrums for lots of reasons, but it is usually to get what they want. How you handle the first few tantrums will determine if they continue or not. If your child knows that throwing a fit will get them what they want, they will keep throwing fits. Fight the urge to give in. Ignore them.

Stop them before they start:
1. Understand your child's temperament: Recognize if your child is more intense, or has a hard time calming down or dealing with frustrating situations. If this describes your child's temperament, allow time to transition between activities, make sure your kids get enough sleep, prepare your children for upcoming activities, plan calmer activities after more active ones.

2. Be a good role model: Children will do for the most part, what their parents do. How do you handle frustrating situations. Do you have a temper? Evaluate your own actions.

3. Identify your child's signals: When our daughter was younger, she would always cross her arms right before she was ready to throw a fit. As soon as I saw those arms cross, I knew I had a very small window in which to ward off the tantrum.

4. Have Reasonable Expectations: Expecting children to sit in car seats all day, run errands all day, sit in restaurants silently for long periods of time etc... are setting unreasonable expectations. Expecting a two year old to make their bed or asking young children to sit and read or do homework for extended periods of time is also unrealistic. When we ask too much of our children, of course they are going to throw a fit. Be sure your expectations are in line with their capabilities.

5. Try to identify the reasons: There are some typical reasons for tantrums. Do any of the following apply?
Too Many Responsibilities Placed on the Child
Demanding Attitude
Strong Willed
Too Few Choices
Seeking Attention
Tantrums Have Worked Before
Can't Express Their Feelings
Recent Trauma
Change in Routine
Doesn't Understand What is Being Asked of Them
Overstimulated/Over programmed
Seeks Independence
Stressed Parents
Strained Home Environment

Once a Tantrum is Approaching

  • Try to Distract your child and divert their attention. Change the subject, point to something else, pose a challenge, suggest a new activity.
  • Allow some freedom. Don't over control children. Parents who are too strict will find that their children rebel. One of the ways they express rebellion is through temper tantrums. They hope it will get things to change. Being too controlling, yelling, hitting or spanking usually won't work.
  • Try to calm them down. When our son started to throw a tantrum I would get down on my knees so that my face was level with his. I would take both of his hands and in a quiet, calm voice quietly talk to him about the situation. It didn't work unless I was calm and on his level.
  • Describe your child's feelings for them. When our daughter gets overly tired, everything is overwhelming to her but she doesn't understand what she is feeling. When she starts to have a breakdown I know I need to help her understand what she is feeling. "You are acting tired, do you feel tired?".  Once I help her understand how she is feeling, she is able to gain some control. She will actually look at me now and through the tears say, "Mom, I think I am really tired."
  • Interpret the Situation. I use this with our 1 1/2 year old all the time. Because of her age, her vocabulary is limited. When things start to go south (depending on the situation) I say "Do you want a drink", "Would you like that toy?", "Do you want to get out?". Young children can't always tell us what they think and feel. We have to use our intuition and interpret the situation for them. 
  • Offer a Warning. If you have a child who is a little older (3+) who begins to throw a tantrum, give them a warning that what they are doing is not okay, and that there will be consequences for their actions.  "If you don't sit down then we will have to leave". "Stop screaming or you can't go with us". Be stern and direct and clear with the consequence, AND, if you threaten a consequence, you have to be willing to go through with it if the negative behavior continues. 
  • Teach your children words that help them express how they are feeling. Teaching young children a few basic words such as angry, tired, and sad will give them tools to use when frustrating situations arise. Practice using these words in everyday situations to teach children what they mean. Over time, you will see they are using the words instead of throwing a fit.
When we had our first child, our pediatrician gave us temper tantrum advice when our son was only about 4 months old. He said, " If he throws a fit, ignore him, don't give in just so he will stop". 

On Monday: Temper Tantrums Part 2: How to handle a full blown Temper Tantrum, What to do in the heat of it, and How do you handle a child once the Tantrum is over?

Do you deal with Temper Tantrums at your house?
Do you know they are coming? What are some of the things you do to ward them off?
As a Mom, how do you feel when your kids throw a fit?

Family Volley


  1. Asher (2 1/2) threw a tantrum last week. He told me "Asher is very angry, Asher hit Abbie!" I told him that I new he was angry, but that it is never okay to hit anyone especially his little sister. I tried to distract him by reading the Llama Llama books by Anne Dewdney, and he calmed down. The worst is when it happens at the store and people try and talk and "help" him. He gets even more frustrated, and he would have been fine had they just ignored the behavior like I was. At least they had good intentions.

  2. Amanda what a great success story. Textbook. Funny how kids will respond if we keep our cool and take appropriate steps. There are so many times when people think they are helping, but really they just make matters worse. That same thing happened to us at Costco when our daughter was two. It was so hard because I just wanted to tell the lady to leave us alone. Like you said, they had good intentions.

  3. My daughter has yelling fits and massive temper tantrums, where she hits , bites, scratches and kicks us, I'm lost on what to do and it is making me not able to cope and control the situation, getting down to her level she just grads my face and pinches me! We put her in her room and she kicks the door crying and angry, she is 3yrs and 10 months old. It really got worse when our new baby girl arrived 11 weeks ago, any suggestions PLEASE, Thanks


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