A guide to tantrums

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

Temper tantrums can be frustrating for any parent, but these can become learning opportunities both for yourself and your little one. To combat these and learn from them, we’ve put together this guide to temper tantrums!

This guide will look at why your little one might have a tantrum, how you can help avoid these and what you should do during (and after) one.

Why do children have tantrums?

Tantrums can range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting, and breath holding. They’re common in both boys and girls, usually between the ages of 1 – 3.

Tantrums are a normal part of your child’s development. They’re how children show they are upset or frustrated.

These may happen due to:

- tiredness,

- hunger,

- changes to a routine e.g., a new nursery or home move,

- anxiety,

- not understanding what’s happening (because your child is too young, this can often happen in a new setting like a shop),

- feeling unwell – maybe your child’s coming down with a bug.

Learning to deal with their frustration is something that children learn over time.

Tantrums are most common in children 2 years old; this is when language skills are starting to develop.

Since toddlers can’t yet say what they want, feel, or need, the frustration can develop into a tantrum. But don’t worry, as language skills develop, tantrums tend to decrease.

How can you avoid tantrums?

Prevention is key when it comes to any negative behaviour, so how can you avoid tantrums where possible? Here are some ideas!

- Give your little one plenty of positive attention.

Positive reinforcements are key in curbing unwanted behaviour – to do this make sure you reward positive behaviours as much as possible. Praise or little rewards like stickers are best for this. Click here for our full guide to reinforcing positive behaviours.

- Try to give your child some control over things

Offer them little choices like ‘do you want orange juice or apple juice?’ or ‘do you want to brush your teeth before or after a bath?’. This way you’re giving your child options rather than closed questions like ‘do you want to brush your teeth now?’ which usually will result with a ‘no’.

- Keep off-limit objects out of sight and reach

This makes struggles less likely to happen as they won’t see an object, they want but can’t have. Obviously, this isn’t possible with everything at home, but the next key point will help with that.

- Distractions! Distractions! Distractions!

Take advantage of your little one's short attention span by offering something else in place of what they can't have. You can start a new activity to replace the frustrating one or even change the environment. You can take your toddler outside or to another room to get out of the frustrating setting.

- Help your child learn new skills

Help your little to learn how to do different things! Use positive reinforcements (like praise and rewards) to help them feel proud of the skills they’re learning. But remember start simple before moving onto more challenging tasks.

- Consider the request

Is it something they can’t have or do? Or can you compromise and help them with it?

- Know their limits

If you know your little one is tired or getting hungry then it’s not the best time to go shopping or run an errand. Make sure their needs are being met and they’re less likely to get frustrated.

These steps can help curb the behaviour, but these can still happen. So, let’s have a look at the next steps.

What should I do during a tantrum?

The first thing to remember is that you have to keep calm. If you’re angry it will complicate the situation and show your little one the behaviour is acceptable.

If you do get frustrated be sure to apologise to your little one and explain in simple terms that how you responded was wrong to show them the behaviour is not ok.

Tantrums should be handled differently depending on the cause.

For instance, if your child is hungry or tired, it’s time for a snack or nap.

Other times, it’s best to ignore an outburst or distract your little one with a different activity.

If they are having a tantrum to get attention, one of the best ways to reduce the tantrums is to ignore it.

If your little one is refused something and this results in a tantrum, stay calm and move onto another activity.

If a tantrum happens after your child is told to do something they don’t want to do, it's best to ignore the tantrum. But be sure that you follow through on having your child complete the task after they are calm.

Children who are in danger of hurting themselves or others during a tantrum should be taken to a quiet, safe place to calm down. This also applies to tantrums in public.

In summary, unless it is something your little one needs such as sleep or food, ignoring, distractions and time to calm down are best.

This way they learn the behaviour isn’t the right way to get something they want and will over time (as they language and communication skills develop) stop having tantrums.

So, your little one is calm, what now?

What should I do after a tantrum?

Follow up actions after a tantrum are a good way to reinforce the idea that tantrums are not a good way to get something.

Praise them for regaining control for instance ‘I like how you calmed down’.

They may also feel vulnerable so it’s good practice to give them a hug and reassure them that they are loved no matter what happens.

These are just some tips for handling and preventing tantrums but if you are struggling to deal with these please contact your nursery manager, heath visitor or GP for additional support.

Here are some signs you might consider if you’re thinking of reaching out for support:

- You have questions about what you're doing or what your child is doing.

- You often feel angry when you respond to tantrums.

- The tantrums become more frequent, intense, or last longer.

- Your child often hurts themselves or others.

- Your child seems very disagreeable.

A nursery manager, health visitor or GP can give you some additional advice and check for any health issues that may add to the tantrums.

However, it’s important to remember that tantrums usually aren’t cause for concern and generally stop on their own. As children develop, their skills allow them to cooperate, communicate, and cope with frustration.


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