11 Ways to Deal with a Toddler Tantrum

To understand tantrums better, read our Temper Tantrum Guide.

Have you ever given your child the “wrong color” cup just to have it result in a full out temper tantrum? Or perhaps you didn’t let them eat the dirt? Or maybe you put the ketchup on the wrong side of the plate? Sometimes living with a toddler can feel like walking amongst a landmine – you never know when a tantrum is going to hit. But what is it that’s causing these tantrums, and how can you deal with them appropriately? Today we’ll dive further into the topic of toddler tantrums to help you learn how to deal with them. 

In order to help you better deal with a tantrum, it’s important that you understand what tantrums are not. In the infant or toddler years, tantrums are not a form of manipulation or bad behavior. While this can be the case in later years, infants and toddlers have not yet developed the tools for manipulation. Rather, tantrums are an expression of a want or a need. 

Imagine, as an adult, needing to have a drink but having no way of getting that drink on your own, and no way of communicating that need to anyone else. That would be frustrating right? Well, toddlers and infants have not yet learned the communication skills required to express all of their needs. Furthermore, they haven’t learned to regulate their emotions. So when they’re feeling frustrated, they don’t know how to tell us that they’re feeling frustrated. When they’re feeling angry, they don’t know how to express that to us either. The result? A full blown temper tantrum. 

Here are 11 Different Ways to Handle Your Toddler Tantrums

So as parents and adults, then, it’s our responsibility to change the way we think about tantrums. If we think of tantrums in terms of “my child is being bad”, then we will inevitably become frustrated and overwhelmed ourselves. But if we can think of tantrums as a way of expressing a need, then we can work hard to find out what that need is and how we can resolve it. How can we do that?

1. Stay calm

The number one thing that you can do during a toddler tantrum is to stay calm. If you become frustrated or overwhelmed, your child will feed off of your energy. Remember, this is not your child “being bad” or trying to manipulate you. It is your child trying to communicate a need with you. If you can change the way you look at tantrums, you can also change the way you respond to them.

2. Wait out the tantrum

Have you ever been upset just to have someone to tell you to “calm down”? How did that work out for the other person? If you’re like most people, probably not so well. Just as you need time to calm down on your own when you are angry, so does your toddler. In most cases, trying to step in and calm your child down in the middle of a tantrum will be useless. Once they have hit the tantrum stage, they are already too far gone. Stay calm, wait for the tantrum to pass, and then respond to it appropriately. 

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Posted by Joel Mitchell on Sunday, December 8, 2019
This father is creating a safe space for his child to express their tantrum, while remaining calm and offering a hug, when a child needs it.

3. Try to understand why your child is throwing a tantrum

Sometimes tantrums can be difficult to figure out, but other times it can be very easy to determine what is upsetting your child. Are they tired? Maybe it’s time for a nap. Are they hungry? Maybe it’s time for lunch. Or maybe they are sad because they can’t find their favourite toy? In such a situation, maybe they just need a hug. As mentioned above, stay calm, wait for the tantrum to pass, and if you can figure out what the need is then you can respond to it appropriately. 

4. Make sure your toddler is not in any danger

Temper tantrums can come in many different forms and sometimes children can act them out by hitting, kicking, or throwing things. In such a case, it’s important to make sure that they are safe during their tantrum. As such, you should never leave the room while your child is having a temper tantrum. Rather, stay nearby so that they know you are close and so that they can continue to feel safe. Move any objects that could cause them harm out of the way and again, wait out the tantrum and respond appropriately.

Try to figure out why your child is throwing a tantrum.

5. Respond to your child’s emotions

As adults, we like to feel heard. This is especially true when we are feeling sad, angry, frustrated, or upset. Well, children are no different. Just as we like to know that our feelings matter, so do our children. Of course, trying to acknowledge your child’s feelings when they are in the middle of a tantrum probably won’t do much because they won’t be listening to you. But when the tantrum is over, then you can take the time to respond – “It’s really upsetting when you drop your food on the floor, isn’t it? Maybe we can get you another piece of pizza.” 

By responding to your child’s emotions, you are not only showing them that their feelings matter, but you’re also teaching them about how they are feeling and how they can better manage those emotions in the future. 

6. Give your child some space

Sometimes children just need to get their frustrations out – just like we do. Let them. Again, this comes back to waiting out the tantrum. Though it may take some time, eventually your child will calm down. Again, it’s important to stay close to a) keep them safe and b) let them know that you are there if you need them, but it’s also okay to give them a little bit of space. Let them calm down on their own time. This will allow them to pull themselves together and regain self-control which over time will help them to learn how to self soothe and regulate their emotions on their own. Once they have calmed down, then you can work on responding to their emotions and tending to their needs. 

7. Give your child a hug

Did you know that just by giving your child a hug you can actually restore the hormonal balance inside of their body? When someone gives you a hug it releases oxytocin within your body (the feel good chemical). Depending on how severe your child’s temper tantrum is, a hug may be all it takes to help them calm down. Not only can a hug help your child to calm down, but it can also strengthen the bond that you have by letting them know that you are there for them when they need you. 

Offer a hug to help your child calm down and feel safe.

8. Create a diversion

Sometimes you simply don’t have the time to wait out a tantrum. Other times, such as in public situations, tantrums can be embarrassing and you want to stop them in their tracks. Though it’s not always possible to do, sometimes you can stop tantrums in their tracks with a diversion. Offer your child a toy to play with or a snack that they enjoy. Children have very short attention spans, so the more diversions you try, the more likely you are to find one that will eventually work. Many parents carry distractions in their purse when they are out in public exactly for this reason. 

Tip: If you can read your child’s behavior and catch a tantrum before it hits, your chances of a distraction being successful will be greatly increased. 

9. Change the venue

If your child is having a meltdown because they are upset over something they can’t have (ie. a toy or a candy bar) sometimes all it takes is a change of venue to calm them down. If it is safe to move them, pick them up and move them to a different section of the store. This could result in an “out of sight, out of mind” frame of mind for your child, and could be all it takes to end the tantrum right then and there. 

Create diversion or change location when you notice your child is near a tantrum.

10. Stand your ground

Earlier in the article we talked about tending to your child’s emotions and needs. It’s important to understand however, that tending to their needs is not necessarily the same thing as giving them what they want.

When your child is hungry, they have a need to eat and that need should be tended to. But when your child is upset over not being able to have a chocolate bar, this is not a need, it is a “want”. It’s okay to tend to the emotion behind it (ie. “I understand that you’re upset because you can’t have that chocolate bar”), but it doesn’t mean that you need to give in and give them the chocolate bar.

In fact, giving in to temper tantrum “wants” will only further the behavior in the future when your child eventually does begin to use tantrums as a form of manipulation. 

In return, if your child has a need, tend to it. But if it’s just a want, it’s okay to stand your ground and stay firm on your decisions. Being consistent in how you handle “want” tantrums will establish future boundaries for your child.  

11. Help Your Child Express Emotions

Finally, it’s important to remember that tantrums are triggered by the inability to express emotions. If your child continues their tantrums after their infant and toddler years, it may be a sign that something further is going on. More specifically, an increased number of temper tantrums can sometimes be a result of speech difficulties. This makes sense because children who have speech difficulties have a more difficult time expressing themselves in words, so they do so through a tantrum instead. 

In situations like these, apps like Speech Blubs can help to develop speech, thereby giving your child more effective ways of communicating their emotions.

“I want to give you an update about my son, who 4 weeks ago only said three words and is two and a half. He has been in speech therapy for a year, but after we started using your app 4 weeks ago, he now says more words than I can count. He is responding to questions with words or is at least making an effort to say a word, rather than throw a tantrum. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Heather Cartier via Instagram

If you think that your child may be throwing tantrums related to speech difficulties, try Speech Blubs today. 

“My two year old had it for less than a week and he’s already saying more”

Mariah C., Mom

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