Temper tantrums are a normal part of childhood development. Children between 1 and 3 years old have difficulty expressing their emotions effectively, so they express them by crying, screaming, and sometimes even stomping their feet. Children understand language better than they can express it. Once children develop their vocabulary, they will begin to use words to communicate instead of temper tantrums.
How to Stop Tantrums Before They Start
With a little planning, there are some things you can do to stop a tantrum before it happens, such as:
- Stick to a routine—Children have somewhat predictable needs for food and sleep. Schedules help your child know what to expect every day.
- Knowing your child and their limits—This means being flexible enough to change your day around your child's moods, especially when they are hungry or tired.
- Offering your child a few choices to provide a sense of control over their environment.
- Praising your child for positive behavior
- Keeping objects that spark temper tantrums out of sight, such as a complex puzzle they find frustrating
- Picking your battles and accommodating your child when the request is reasonable
- Offering age-appropriate toys
Temper Tantrum Tips
It's difficult knowing how to respond to a child who may be on the floor kicking, screaming, and crying. While you can't reason with a child in the midst of a tantrum, there are some things you can do.
- Keep Your Cool —Shouting or getting angry will prolong your child's tantrum. If your child is in a safe environment, you can leave the room and return after you have regained your calmness.
- Investigate —Spend time understanding why your child is getting upset to determine if they need comfort or are hurt, for example.
- Use Distractions —Redirect your child by asking them to play a game, read a book, or play with a toy. Changing locations, such as going outside, may also help distract your child.
- When to Ignore —Minor displays of anger, such as crying, screaming, or kicking can be ignored. However, if this happens in a public place, you should take your child home or to another location, such as your car.
- When to Respond —While some behaviors can be ignored, others must be responded to right away, such as hitting or kicking someone or throwing items. Stay firm and communicate that these are not acceptable behaviors.
- Encourage Breaks —When your child can't be reasoned with, it's best to have them take a short break. After the break, talk over what happened.
What To Avoid
Because temper tantrums are a normal part of childhood development, you should never punish your child for having a temper tantrum. Children need to be able to express their emotions. Punishing a child for having a temper tantrum sends the message that anger or frustration should be kept inside, which is unhealthy.
However, you also should not offer rewards. Don't give in to a temper tantrum. Providing your child with the toy they are screaming for only teaches the child that their communication methods worked.
While temper tantrums are difficult to quell, they are also a stage that your child must go through. Most children outgrow them once they are able to communicate effectively using a vocabulary that you help them build over time.
If you are concerned about the frequency, intensity, or duration of your child's temper tantrums, it is best to discuss them with your child's doctor.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Canadian Institute of Child Health
Temper tantrums. Nemours Kid's Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/tantrums.html. Updated April 2015. Accessed June 23, 2016.
Top tips for surviving temper tantrums. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/communication-discipline/pages/Temper-Tantrums.aspx. Updated November 21, 2015. Accessed June 23, 2016.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 7/18/2014