How to Stop Toddler Tantrums
The best way to stop toddler tantrums is to avoid them in the first place! There are a number of effective strategies parents can implement to prevent tantrums from happening, with a strong focus on building the child up, ensuring their needs are met, and setting appropriate expectations and boundaries.
Stopping Toddler Tantrums
Determine whether expectations are developmentally appropriate. Ensure necessary supports are in place and don’t be afraid to tweak them if you find them to be inappropriate for your child’s age and ability.
Teaching social and emotional learning skills
These practices involve teaching your child how to identify their emotions, perceive others’ points of view, analyze situations and practice problem-solving skills, self-soothe, and communicate clearly their needs to others.
Set clear expectations
It is important to talk to your child about the expectations and why they are important. This will allow them to understand better why it is they are asked to behave and act in a certain way.
Provide your children the opportunity to learn about big emotions and how to handle them when they come about. For example, you may model to your child what you look like when you are feeling frustrated and what you can do to help manage that feeling.
Enhancing your relationship
This can be done by increasing the quality and quantity of time you spend with your child. When spending time with your child, try to follow their lead and avoid taking control; the following techniques are recommended:
- Verbally Acknowledge your child’s appropriate behaviors (e.g., “Thank you for sharing your toys with me!”
- Respond to what they are saying with reflective listening, as this shows you are interested in what they are saying (e.g., your child says, “I like to play with my cars,” you can respond by saying, “These cars are super fun to play with).
- Mirror their play (e.g., if they draw a flower, you can draw one too).
- Describe appropriate behavior by verbally describing what they are doing (e.g., “I like how you added polka dots to the dress in your drawing”).
- Show excitement and positive emotion as you are playing with your child
Distracting your child
Consider offering something in place of what they want and can’t have. For example, if you find your child jumping on the couch, offer them the opportunity to help you cook instead. Make sure to praise them for their help.
Give them positive attention
Try to “catch” your child being good so that you can immediately reward them with praise and attention for their behavior. Be specific with your praise (e.g., “Mommy loves how you shared your toy with your sister”). This will help foster a positive relationship with your child.
Providing opportunities for them to be in control
Offer choices to your child, such as “Would you like to brush your teeth before or after bath time”). This allows them to have some control over situations that won’t impact their day.
What to do When a Tantrum Occurs
While we try our best to avoid tantrums, this is not always possible. When a tantrum occurs, we can follow steps to support a child to try stopping the toddler tantrun. It’s important to remember that the goal in addressing a tantrum is not punitive – we are not trying to punish the child, but rather to help them grow their skills and learn to meet their needs more adaptively.
What Works to Stop Toddler Tantrums
Assess for danger
When your child begins to yell, scream, or fail around, begin by assessing the environment for any danger. Ensure there is nothing they can bump into or grab and throw. This will ensure everyone in the vicinity is safe and that no one will unintentionally get hurt.
Prior to engaging with your child, ensure you are calm. You need to be the anchor that grounds them, so project calm, and confidence, and mind your tone and body language.
Get down to their level
It is important to physically get down to their level to ensure you are meeting their eye contact. Take this time to validate how they are feeling (e.g., “I can see you are frustrated right now because I did not buy you that candy bar”) but not the behavior (e.g., throwing a toy on the ground).
Stay calm but don’t give in
It’s important to validate how your child is feeling, this will make them feel seen and heard. However, you want to remain firm with your rules and not give in. Even occasionally giving in to a child’s demands can lead to an increase in behavioral issues (this is known as “intermittent reinforcement”). You can offer the child a hug, take deep breaths together, or take a short walk to help calm their emotional brains.
Allow time to recover
Give them some time to recover. When they are calm have a brief conversation with them. Help them make sense of what happened (including labeling their emotions) and talk about how you two will move forward (which may include discussing better ways to cope with their big feelings or different ways to communicate with you, depending on the situation).. Make sure to not shame them, as they are still learning how to regulate their emotions. You can take this time to model appropriate behaviors for the next time they feel a big emotion.
What Does Not Work to Stop Toddler Tantrums
Giving attention during a tantrum
If you scold, scream, or yell back at your child while they are having a tantrum, you are unintentionally rewarding their behavior. This reinforces the behavior by giving them attention and leads them to believe, “If I scream loud enough, mommy will listen to me.” Remember, you are not ignoring your child or their needs, just the problem behavior. Parents should also provide positive reinforcement for any positive behaviors they see, such as self-soothing. There is also a difference between giving in to a child’s demands during a tantrum (e.g., buying them a toy) versus helping them learn to regulate their emotions. Emphasize your attention and praise towards behaviors you want to see more of (e.g., speaking calmly, taking deep breaths) and withdraw attention from problem behaviors.
Ignoring your child’s needs
It is important to understand what is causing them so much distress. Toddlers struggle to articulate their needs, as their verbal skills are not fully developed. Make sure to understand what they need (e.g., food, rest) before ignoring or sending them to time-out. Also, be mindful of your child’s limits. If you know they are tired, don’t try to squeeze in unnecessary errands.
This will only increase the severity and duration of the tantrum. This also conveys the message that it is okay to hit when angry or frustrated.
Trying to reason with your child
At the height of a tantrum, it is important to avoid long lectures. This will only frustrate them more and they are less likely to be receptive to what you are saying. The best time to explain expectations and reason with your child is when they are calm.
These strategies can be helpful, but if tantrums persist and you are having difficulty dealing with either avoiding or stopping toddler tantrums, you should speak to your pediatrician.