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. 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:
- Knowing your child and his limits
- Offering your child choices to provide him with a sense of control of his environment
- Praising your child for positive behavior
- Keeping objects that spark temper tantrums out of sight, such as a complex puzzle he or she finds frustrating
- Picking your battles and accommodate 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 he or she needs comfort, for example.
- Use Distractions—Redirect your child by asking him or her 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 immediately, 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 him 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.
You shouldn't punish your child, but you also should not reward him. Don't give in to a temper tantrum. Providing your child with the toy he is screaming for only teaches the child that his 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 & Adolescent Psychiatry
Canadian Institute of Child Health
Kids Health & Safety
Temper tantrums. HealthyChildren.org website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/communication-discipline/pages/Temper-Tantrums.aspx. Updated May 19, 2011. Accessed August 11, 2012.
Temper tantrums. KidsHealth.org website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/tantrums.html. Updated January 2012. Accessed August 11, 2012.