Toddler Temper Tantrums

February 4, 2020

Christine Tanner Perdue, PNP

Toddler Temper Tantrums
By: Christine Perdue, CPNP

As any parent can tell you, the tantrums associated with the “Terrible Twos” start well before 2 and last long into their 3s, but the real question is how should parents deal with them? To best answer that question, it is first important to identify why they occur. In congruence with the recommendations made by the American Academy of Pediatrics, this article will work to answer these questions and provide advice for parents navigating through their toddler’s temper tantrums.

Why Do Tantrums Happen?

Temper tantrums are a normal part of your child’s development, beginning around 12-18 months. Tantrums typically get worse between 2 and 3 years, finally tapering off once your child is able to use words to communicate their wants and needs. Young children often experiences strong feelings and are unable to communicate their frustrations with you adequately. These feelings of frustration or anger can manifest in crying, screaming, and stomping.

How to Prevent Temper Tantrums
Although temper tantrums are normal, you may be able to prevent some from happening:

  • Encourage your child to use words to tell you how they are feeling.
  • Set reasonable limits and don’t expect perfection. Give simple reasons for the rules and don’t change them.
  • Keep to a daily routine so your child knows what to expect.
  • Distract your child – sometimes a change in location can prevent tantrums.
  • Avoid long outings during which your child has to sit still and cannot play.
  • Have healthy snacks ready.
  • Make sure your child is well rested.
  • Give choices (be sure the choices you offer are also acceptable to you).
  • Set a good example – avoid arguing or yelling in front of your child.

How to Handle Tantrums

  • Try to stay calm – if you become frustrated and angry, it can make things worse. If unable to stay calm, leave the room and wait a minute or two before returning.
  • Let the tantrum end itself – Only your child can end their tantrum. Allow them time and space to let the tantrum run its course.
  • Offer a cooling-down time – The use of a time-out allows your child adequate time to resolve their tantrum in a safe place.
  • Ignore minor displays of anger (crying, screaming, kicking) – You may try holding your child to calm them down, or you can try standing quietly nearby until they calm down. If your child has a tantrum in a public place, take them home or to the car.

What Not to Do
You should never punish your child for a temper tantrum. If punished for a tantrum, your child may start to keep their anger and frustration inside, which can be unhealthy. Your child is young and will learn to deal with these strong emotions.  

Although tempting, do not give in to your child just to stop a tantrum. Children are smart and will quickly learn that they can use a tantrum to get what they want. Do not feel guilty for telling your child “no”.  Set rules and stick to them.

When Temper Tantrums are Serious

  • It is not okay for your child to hit or kick people, throw things that might hurt someone or break something, or to scream for a long time. If these happen, firmly say “no hitting” or “no throwing” to make sure they are aware that the behavior is not okay.
  • If these behaviors persist or if tantrums continue to occur frequently past 3 ½ years of age, make an appointment with your child’s primary care provider to discuss the possibility of language delay, developmental delay, or early signs of emotional problems.  

We, at Gateway Pediatrics, understand that raising children comes with many challenges and we are here to not only care for the health of your child, but also help guide parents through these challenges.  


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