Temper Tantrums! 8 Tips to Prevent & Help Calm Down Your Toddler

Temper Tantrums! 8 Tips to Prevent & Help Calm Down Your Toddler

by Martha Scully

The average toddler tantrum lasts three minutes, but if you’re like most parents, they seem eternal, and you’re left wondering what happened to your previously cheerful infant. Temper tantrums in toddlers are developmentally normal and are usually not cause for concern.

Behavior is the primary communication your child uses before he has enough grasp of language to fully express his feelings. His mid-mall meltdown may simply be his way of telling you he is tired and overwhelmed. Keep in mind his developmental level as you use strategies to help calm his emotional agitation.

Try these tips the next time you feel an outburst coming on.

1. Decipher the Behavior

Sometimes children misbehave out of frustration, fear, fatigue or a myriad of other reasons that may not be evident. If you can discern the cause of your child’s meltdown, you can choose an appropriate response. If he is testing boundaries, now is your chance to be firm and clear to reinforce a lesson. However, if your little one is hungry or tired, summon all the patience you can to weather his big emotions until you can get him a snack or down for a nap, and save the teachable moment for another time.

2. Teach New Skills

Frustration stymies everyone at times. Young children who lack the developmental level to modulate this emotion are particularly prone to letting it get the best of them. If you notice your child gets upset because of a specific challenge, choose a time when he is calm to work through the issue. For example, if struggling to pull on a sock sends your toddler into a downhill spiral of angst, choose level-headed moments to practice this task together so that he’ll be better equipped to attempt it on his own without losing his cool. Anticipate and solve frustration triggers to reduce tantrum episodes.

3. Offer Some Control

Toddlerhood is the time when children are learning independence and fostering decisiveness. Sometimes, tantrums are simply a manifestation of this and can be stopped in their tracks with the offer of choices. Rather than confronting noncompliance straight on, try dodging the issue by giving your child some control. For example, if he refuses to put on shoes before you leave the house, offer him the choice of putting on the shoes before or after he puts on his jacket. This may be enough to unstick his resolve and solve the confrontation.

4. Reward the Behavior You Want

Rewarding good behavior can seem like a non-option when your child is preoccupied with kicking and screaming. During the escalation portion of the tantrum, staying calm without giving in accomplishes the same objective. Once you have ruled out a physical need such as hunger or fear that you can comfort, ignore the tantrum and wait. Keep in mind that at this stage, your child’s emotions have overridden any behavior regulation skills he may have learned, and that his behavior is a reflection of underdeveloped executive function (self-control). When he starts to calm down, praise this change. Reinforce the behavior you want repeated and ignore the behavior you want changed.

5. Dazzle With Distraction

Distraction is a successful tactic that works magic on toddlers in many situations. Try it the next time your child loses control of his emotions. Redirect his attention away from the source of the tantrum, preferably not to something that could upset him more. If you can use distraction pre-tantrum, it will be more effective. Anticipate your child’s trigger and shift his attention to a new focus before he gets upset.

6. Manage Your Child’s Environment

Take care of your child’s physical needs to reduce the chances that a tantrum will happen. Maintain nap and feeding schedules, and monitor his individual sensory needs such as clothing comfort and noise level. Avoid highly stimulating events like outings when you know his reserves will be low, such as at the end of the day. If an unfavorable situation can’t be avoided, watch your child for signs of emotional fatigue, and remove him from the environment for quiet breaks when possible.

7. Stay Calm

Toddlers are by nature masters at mimicry. This is how they learn. Model the behavior you want them to adopt. Anyone who has ever witnessed a young child suffer a scrape and then study his adult’s reaction for clues to the seriousness of the event knows that staying calm yourself can prevent further upset in your child. When your child has a tantrum, if you respond with anger, the situation will take longer to resolve. However, if you remain calm, your child will follow suit.

8. Know When to Get Help

All toddlers have tantrums, but, occasionally, persistent or excessive emotional upset can indicate a developmental issue in your child and should be discussed with your doctor. Signs that you may need an expert opinion include: the tantrums are getting worse, your child inflicts harm on himself or others, you feel a loss of control or your child is mostly defiant and seldom cooperative. Remember that children are born with innate behavioral tendencies, and extreme misbehavior is not always a reflection of parenting.

Bonus Tip: How to Stop Kids From Whining


Toddler tantrums are a normal phase of child growth and development. Understanding their causes helps not only with child behavior management but also with your own peace of mind. As your child gets older, he will learn enough emotional regulation and communication skills to behave more calmly, and before you know it, the toddler tantrum phase will be merely a memory.

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About the Author
Martha Scully
Martha is the founder of CanadianNanny.ca. Martha has been featured as a Child Care Expert in hundreds of publications across Canada including The Globe and Mail, CBC, Today's Parent and The National Post, She lives in British Columbia with her husband and two daughters.