9 Best Strategies To Handle Temper Tantrums

temper tantrums

The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways. ~ Unknown (Tweet this)

Every kid goes through them and every parent feels at some point that they are not equipped to face them. Temper tantrums are especially common between 2 and 4 years of age and even though we all wish they would just disappear, they are a normal part of a child’s development. However, not every kid’s temper tantrums have the same strength or happen as often.

A child’s natural disposition will play a part in how bad their temper tantrums are. Strong-willed children, for example, tend to have them more often. But the good news is that you can, in every case, help diminish their intensity and occurrence significantly. If you are the parent of a kid going through this stage, you know that even one less temper tantrum is worth reading this article!

Why do temper tantrums occur?

Before we get into what to do, I believe that it’s important to understand why they occur. From understanding, compassion is built; and if you can relate to your child you will be able to keep your patience for a bit longer during those difficult moments.

In young children (2-3) temper tantrums are usually associated with difficulty in communication. The toddler tries to tell you about a want or a need and not being able to convey their message can be very frustrating.

In older kids (3-4) there tends to be a power component in their temper tantrums. They are in a developmental stage in which they are establishing their individuality and they have the need to inflict some kind of control over their environment.  This can conflict with their capacity and your interests and the struggle can become a temper tantrum.

In both of these, the children are not yet ready to cope with the emotions they are feeling, so their reactions are genuine despite the fact that they seem to be triggered by, sometimes, no apparent reason.

Learned temper tantrums (4+) sometimes the older kids have learned that they can simply get what they want by throwing a fit. These are learned temper tantrums and they are different than the emotional meltdown that usually occur in the two prior cases.  In this situation, the child is acting out the steps of the tantrum but there are no tears and you will notice it is just an attempt to manipulate you. Do not fall for their demands or you will continue to reinforce the occurrence.

How to handle temper tantrums and win!

  1. Do not try to reason with your child. If they are in the middle of a meltdown their frontal cortex—the part of the brain that handles logic—is overwritten by emotion. They cannot process what you are telling them at that moment. Trying to reason will only make things worse by overwhelming them. Wait for them to calm down.
  2. Get them interested in something else.  Shift their focus before they are too far invested in the tantrum. Try not to make any reference to what they wanted before. Just act as if this new thing you “just noticed” is the most amazing and exciting thing ever! This way you won’t only avoid a temper tantrum you will have a happy child with you. Thank you, high school theater club!
  3. To hug or not to hug, that is the question.  Learn what your child’s preference is when they are in the middle of that purely emotional part of the temper tantrum.  Some kids calm down faster if they are held and comforted. Others need some space and will get worse if you invade their bubble. Both types will need you afterward (once they are a bit calmer and can reason again).
  4. Keep the basics covered. It’s imperative that they do not become overtired or hungry in your quest to avoid temper tantrums. I myself put on my cranky pants when hungry, so why would I expect my 19-month-old to be more reasonable? It is a good idea to carry some snacks (for both of you!) in case of an emergency.  Ensure they are getting enough sleep, especially prior to entering into any trigger-rich situation (like an oncoming family reunion).
  5. Move away from the scene, and take the child with you. I know that, in moments like this, you were hoping maybe it would be okay to leave them behind. As tempting as that might be, what works is to simply move them to a different room or a different area from where the temper tantrum started. This helps them forget about what started it all and calm down faster.
  6. Communication is key.  Sometimes children get upset because their expectations are not met. They have pictured something in their mind and all of a sudden a different thing is happening in reality and they have not had time to assimilate it. By communicating with them we can avoid this type of situation. For example, before a play date comes to an end it’s a good idea to warn them about you having to leave soon and slowly come to the time when you actually have to go. This is much better (and respectful) than all of a sudden telling them the fun is over.
  7. Be an amazing listener. Young children have problems communicating; this can be very frustrating and the cause of many emotional temper tantrums.  Become an excellent listener. You will need to pay attention to more than words. For children who are not yet talking, it’s a good idea to teach them some baby sign language early on. Also just asking them to “show” you what they want can help sometimes. They might point, gesture or even look towards things that might give you a clue to their requests.

    Listening is where love begins. ~ Mr. Rogers (Tweet this)

  8. Remember, you are not alone in this. When out in public most parents panic at the mere thought of temper tantrums. They usually lose most of their skills while thinking about others judging how they deal with the situation.  The truth is, other parents have been where you are and they understand, and if you appear calm most people will believe you have things under control no matter what you do (or how out of control your child is in reality!). So stay calm, breathe, and if possible take the child outside to the car, or simply away from people so that you can regain your focus.
  9. Prevention is the best solution ever. It keeps you both in a more positive frame of mind. It might take a bit of prep work but it’s so very worth it. Learn your child’s triggers and be aware of the situations that can cause upset. For example:
      • getting into the car seat,
      • going to the supermarket,
      • leaving the park,
      • going to the pediatrician…

the list could go on and on.

Have a plan based on the prior tips and be ready to implement it before the temper tantrum starts or escalates to its maximum levels.

Basically, the biggest tip is this

Above all, be patient and do not lose your temper. Remember, you are the adult. Your capacity to cope is much more developed and your child needs you to guide them on how to handle strong emotions.

Remember that at the peak of a meltdown, ignoring them while waiting for them to calm down is usually a good idea, but there are things you can try before they reach the top. If they have already arrived at their worst point, despite all your efforts, just repeat after me: “ . . . this, too, shall pass . . . ”.

Remember, when your child has a tantrum, don’t have one of your own. ~ Dr. J. Kuriansky (Tweet this)

Tell us in the comments about what has worked for you. Do you have some tricks we can all benefit from?

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About the Author

Yaiza is a published author with a background in psychology and behavior. She has been an ecological educator for Zoos and aquariums, and has been and continues to be involved in several charitable projects and organizations. Her goal is to be active on building a better life for the present and a better world for generations to come.

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