Dealing With Tantrums in Toddlers: 5 Guaranteed Strategies for Success

Few things raise a parent’s blood pressure level or try their patience more than dealing with tantrums in toddlers. However, if you know what to do for temper tantrums, it’s easier to deal with the situation when you are in the midst of the battle, and you won’t feel like you’ve reached the end of your rope.

Here’s five strategies to help you calm an angry child and stop temper tantrums at the store, other public places, or at home.

1. Time Out

Time outs help calm a screaming, kicking child, but they can be more valuable to the parent than the child if used effectively

Putting yourself in time out first (when possible) allows you to take deep, cleansing breaths and regain your composure.

When you are calm, you can deal with situations from a position of power and logic rather than reacting on emotions or embarrassment.

So, whenever possible, when a temper tantrum rears its ugly head, put your toddler in a prearranged time-out spot, and take a time out yourself.

Dealing with toddler temper tantrums

Tantrums at Home

Your child throws himself on the floor, screaming and beating his fists on the floor. You say something like “Looks like you are really angry right now. I’m going to the kitchen, and you can let me know when you feel calmer.”

Next, you simply walk away him while mentally reminding yourself: “I am the adult. I can choose to react or respond. I choose to respond.”

Stay close enough so he doesn’t feel abandoned and so you can monitor his safety, but far enough away to allow you both some space to get control.

Public Tantrums

Your choices are: trying to calm your child in the midst of a tantrum or taking her to another location before putting her into a time-out.

The best possible scenario for time outs? Put the child in time out for an appropriate amount of time (usually one minute per year of age), while you take a time out as well and do a calming activity.

2. Dealing With Tantrums During Shopping Trips

Shopping and toddler tantrums seem to go together. Short attention spans, fatigue or illness can cause kids to act inappropriately. Parents who feel pressured to get errands done or purchase food or other life necessities may find it harder to stay in control, especially when a child gets out of control.

Advance Planning

It’s much easier to deal with these public tantrums if you plan your strategies in advance. That way, you won’t need to make hasty, on-the spot decisions.

Think through the answers to questions like:

  1. If shopping trips trigger tantrums, do you have to take your child with you?
  2. Could a friend or relative babysit while you shop?
  3. If you must take him, could you make a kid-friendly grocery list with pictures of foods he could find and put in a child-sized grocery cart? Sometimes a diversion stops a tantrum.
  4. If she has a full-blown tantrum while you are shopping, do you need the food in your grocery cart, or can you leave the cart, and carry her out of the store and into the car?
  5. Is there a restroom or quiet area to which you can escape and calm her?

After you have decided on your strategies for dealing with tantrums, if it’s necessary to take your child with you while shopping, make sure he understands cause and effect: If you are disobedient while we are shopping, I’ll have to take you to the car for a timeout. When the time out is finished, we’ll go back into the store and finish shopping.

Why Should You Leave?

Taking a child and leaving the scene of a temper tantrum is not always possible, but it does achieves some positive things:

  1. It reinforces your parental authority, and sends a clear message: “I am in charge.”
  2. It sets a precedent: appropriate behavior is rewarded (we stay and finish our shopping, our meal, our playtime and so on); inappropriate behavior leads to consequences (we don’t stop for ice cream or a treat, we don’t go to the movies, our play date is cancelled).
  3. It defuses the emotions by putting you back on your home turf, where you have an advantage.

3. Sink to Their Level

It’s important to make eye contact with your toddler during a temper tantrum. Rather than towering over them like an avenging giant, get down on their level. Put a hand on their shoulder – gently – look them in the eyes, and speak in a low voice (almost a whisper).

Use short, simple sentences with one main theme: This behavior is inappropriate. You seem really angry. Let’s take a couple of deep breaths and calm down.

Most kids calm down and listen because they can’t hear your soft voice when they are screaming. However, if he has worked himself into a frenzy, try wrapping your arms around him gently and counting slowly and softly – one, two, three and so on – until he calms down. Encasing him in your arms gives him a feeling of security and helps him regain control. Remember, emotions are contagious; if you are projecting a calm, serene attitude, your child will regroup and become calm.

4. Change the Environment

We touched on this briefly but tantrums are often triggered by boredom or tiredness. Hungry or tired children don’t the patience to sit quietly for long periods. In addition, they haven’t learned impulse control and because of their limited vocabularies, they can’t always express their feelings.  All these triggers can lead to explosive temper tantrums.

Public Temper Tantrums

If a tantrum happens in public, cut the trip short and leave the scene. Take a short walk around the parking lot or up and down some nearby sidewalks, and then try returning to the store or wherever you were. If that doesn’t work, it’s best to go home and get your child under control.

Does this take some extra time out of your day or schedule? Yes, it does, but it may be worth it – only you can make that decision.

Temper Tantrums at Home

If a  tantrum happens at home, use a time out period followed by a change in activity or scenery: go outside if you are inside, dance or march around the house if you have been sitting and watching television or reading a book and so on.  It pays to keep some ideas for fun activities in your parenting toolkit so you are always ready to provide a distraction when needed.

5. Act Swiftly, But Appropriately

A child who is rolling around on the floor at home while kicking and screaming is not endangering anyone but herself. However, a screaming, biting, kicking child on a playground or in other social situations could pose a threat to other children or adults.

In those situations, you need to act swiftly to stop the tantrum. Try to lead him away from the situation, but if it that isn’t possible, you’ll have to pick him up and take him to another location as quickly as possible. Once you have him isolated, you can work on calming him down.

Be a Good Role Model

How’s your own temper? Are you pretty easy-going or do you have a short fuse? Children learn by watching adults and imitating their behaviors. While everyone blows it from time to time, if you are having trouble with your own anger issues, you may want to try some different coping techniques for yourself. Dealing with temper tantrums in toddlers doesn’t have to be stressful, and it helps to be working from a position of calm serenity rather than agitated anger.

Image by Jen SFO-BCN under CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr