Temper tantrums can be frustrating for any parent. But understanding why these occur as well as techniques to both prevent and manage these will help you more effectively curve the behaviour whilst staying calm.
In this guide, we’ll explore why tantrums happen in the first place, how to prevent these, what you should do during and after a tantrum and some additional resources.
Let’s dive straight in!
Why do children have tantrums?
Tantrums are a normal part of your child’s development.
These are how children show that they are upset or frustrated when they don’t yet have the communication skills to express themselves in other ways. This tends to be between ages 1-3.
Tantrums can range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting and breath-holding.
These may happen because your little one is:
Anxious or worried (often due to a change in routine like moving house or starting at nursery)
Not understanding what’s happening (this can often happen in new settings like a store or dentist)
Over time, your child will learn how to cope with their frustration and as language skills develop (as they’re able to more easily express themselves), tantrums tend to decrease.
How can you prevent tantrums?
Prevention is key when it comes to any challenging behaviours – here are some things you can do to prevent tantrums!
Promoting positive behaviours is key when looking to curve challenging ones. Rewards and praise for positive behaviours work more effectively than only addressing negative behaviours.
Offer your little one simple choices (e.g. orange or apple juice or should we brush teeth now or after bath time) to help them feel more in control of their everyday routine.
Keep off-limits out of sight and reach – out of sight out of mind.
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 or even change the environment.
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. This can be as simple as baking or gardening together.
Is it something they can’t have or do? Or can you compromise?
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’ll be less likely to get frustrated.
What should you do during a tantrum?
The first thing to remember is that you should stay calm. If you’re angry it will show your little one that the behaviour is acceptable.
If you do get frustrated be sure to apologise to your child and explain that how you responded was wrong to show them that the behaviour is not okay.
Tantrums should be handled differently depending on the cause. For example, if your little one is hungry or tired it’s time for a snack or nap.
Other times it may be best to ignore an outburst or distract your child with a different activity. If they are having a tantrum to get attention.
If a tantrum happens after your child is told to do something they don’t want to do (e.g. brushing teeth or taking a bath), it's best to ignore the tantrum. But be sure that you follow through on having your little one 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.
What should you do after a tantrum?
Follow-up actions after a tantrum are a good way to reinforce the idea that tantrums are unwanted behaviours.
Praise them for regaining control e.g. ‘I like how you calmed down’.
They may also feel vulnerable so give them a hug and reassure them that they are loved no matter what happens.
If you’re struggling to cope with tantrums or they have been going on for a long time contact your nursery manager, health visitor or GP for additional support.
You may also consider reaching out for support if:
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.
A nursery manager, health visitor or GP can give you some additional advice.
It’s important to remember that tantrums aren’t usually cause for concern and generally stop on their own. As children develop, their skills allow them to cooperate, communicate, and cope with frustration.