Once two and three-year-olds have figured out that they can exert control over their world, both positive and negative behaviors can flourish. While temper tantrums are a normal part of child development, they can still be a challenge for many parents. It is important for parents to remember before enforcing rules or behavioral interventions that no two children are alike. Some strategies will work better for certain toddlers than others, and that’s okay. Thinking about the information below can help you adapt strategies to your unique child and family.
What Causes Temper Tantrums?
A tantrum is the expression of a young child's frustration. As a young child learns more and becomes more independent, they want to do more than they can physically and emotionally manage, which can be frustrating to them. Frustration might trigger anger — resulting in a temper tantrum. Some reasons children have temper tantrums include:
- Transitions (e.g. home to daycare, play to sleep)
- Trying to get attention to test the rules
- Things don’t go their way or they have something taken away from them
- Language is still developing; they’re not able to tell you what they are feeling or what they want
- Not understanding what you want them to do
- Fatigue or hunger
- Sensing stress in the home
- Feelings of worry or upset
How to Prevent Temper Tantrums
Although some temper tantrums happen without warning, parents can often tell when a child is becoming upset. Knowing the times when your child is more likely to have a tantrum and thinking ahead may help. Some suggestions for preventing or keeping temper tantrums to a minimum include:
- Stick to routines for meals and sleep times.
- Know your child’s limits and be reasonable about what to expect from them.
- Prepare your child for any transitions, whether big or small. Talk about changes or events before they happen.
- Let your child know your rules and stick to them. Avoid negotiation.
- Give your toddler some control over little things. Give them a choice within a situation they can’t avoid, such as picking out which book they want to read on the car ride to school. This helps them understand that while they won’t always have a choice, they can still have some control within a situation
- Give praise and attention for good behavior.
- Foster independence through small chores. Use this Toddler Chore Chart for ideas on how to get your little tike on a path as your proud helper.
- Use creative play to your advantage. Engage their imagination during transitions by turning their tough moments into a game.
- Teach and model sharing behavior.
- Identify and label emotions and feelings for them, which will encourage them to verbalize their emotions instead of crying, hitting, etc. (i.e. “I see that you are angry because…)
How to Respond During a Temper Tantrum
For all tantrums, some great reminders for parents on how to react:
- Stay calm and keep your cool.
- Don't hit or spank your child.
- Try to avoid giving in to the tantrum or bribing your child to stop the tantrum.
- Remove potentially dangerous objects from your child or your child's path.
Tantrums can also be handled differently depending on why your child is upset.
- Ignoring an Outburst
If a tantrum is happening to get attention, one of the best ways to reduce this behavior is to ignore it. If a tantrum happens after your child doesn’t get what they want, stay calm and don't give a lot of explanations for why your child can't have what they want. Move on to another activity instead.
- Distracting Your Child with Something Else
If they are unhappy with not getting their way, try changing the setting or environment (e.g. moving rooms or going outside) or trade them another item/toy.
- Use a Time Out When Necessary.
If a tantrum escalates, remove your child from the situation and use a time out to allow time for them to calm down.
When Should I Call the Doctor about Temper Tantrums?
Temper tantrums generally happen less often as children get older. Children should play and act normally between tantrums. Please call your Capital Area Pediatrics provider if:
- Temper tantrums last a long time or happen very often.
- Your child has trouble talking and can't let you know what he or she needs.
- Temper tantrums continue or get worse after 4 years old.
- Your child harms himself or herself or others during tantrums.
If your toddler’s behavior appears to be negatively impacting their ability to make friends or learn, consider having an assessment by an early childhood professional. Capital Area Pediatrics provides screenings for autism and other developmental issues to help children and their caregivers provide the best possible care for their children.
We are proud to offer comprehensive pediatric care from birth through adolescence to families in Northern Virginia. We are still offering telemedicine and touchless check-in to provide the utmost safety to our patients during COVID-19. If you want your child to be evaluated, find a Capital Area Pediatrics location near you and call the office to set up an appointment. You may also request an appointment online.