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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

7 Expert-Backed Ways to Tame Toddler Tantrums

Temper tantrums may be one of the exasperating parts of parenting a toddler. One second your child is playing happily, and the next they're throwing crayons across the room in rage. Before you too have a meltdown, here's are surefire ways to survive—and tame!—a toddler tantrum.

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Stop them before they start

Experts say that tantrums are easier to prevent than stop. Why? When toddlers are calm, they can focus on building the skills they need to express themselves with language instead of throwing a fit. “Many young children who throw a tantrum can’t fully express what they want and need,” explains Mary Barera, PhD, board certified behavior analyst, and author of More Talking, Less Tantrums. “The key is to spend 95 percent of the time preventing tantrums by focusing on teaching easy language and learning tasks.” Of course, as busy parents know, it’s not always easy to watch your kids like a hawk when you’re cooking dinner, folding the laundry, or sneaking in an email, so read on…

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Keep calm

As the adult, your role in the heat of a meltdown is to be the voice of reason, keeping your cool even when you are running out of patience. Whatever you do, don’t join in with your toddler and their hysterics. “Parents need to stay calm and centered so they don’t feed into the tantrums and hysteria,” says Judith Orloff, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and author of The Empath’s Survival Guide. “The calmer you stay, the shorter the tantrum will be.”

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Stay consistent

There are a few different ways to approach a tantrum and parents might find one approach works better than others. Whatever you chose, stick with it. “When you give mixed messages, your child’s tantrum will be much worse,” warns Dr. Orloff. “You want to raise children that know how to respond to boundaries.”

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Help your child label his emotions

In the heat of a tantrum, it is easy to get caught up in making the screaming or tears stop. But there isn’t anything wrong with feeling angry or sad, and it is OK to let your child experience those emotions. Also, help her name his emotions, says to Janet Lansbury, parenting expert. Saying things like, “It sounds like it makes you angry when it’s time to clean up,” will help your child gain a more mature understanding of their feelings, she says. Here are signs you’re raising an emotionally intelligent child.

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Set boundaries

While it’s true that there is nothing wrong with your child being angry or sad, that doesn’t mean they can throw things or hit or bite you or a sibling. Lansbury believes acting out is one way children test the limits you provide them to make sure they are safe and secure. She writes on her blog, “For instance, you might stop a child from hitting, letting them know you aren’t going to allow them to behave that way. It is your job to insist that your child do as you say, even if that means helping them complete a task like putting them in their car seat while they are kicking and screaming. It isn’t fun, but it shows them that you mean what you say.”

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Be compassionate

Children need to know your love for them is unconditional, even if they are throwing tantrums or testing boundaries, writes Janet Lansbury. If children feel there are limits to your love for them and that their behavior can change the way you feel about them, they may act out further or struggle to trust you to meet their needs.

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Clean the slate

Once the tantrum is over, move on. Don’t hold it against your child or let it change the way you behave towards them for the rest of the day. One way to do that is to focus on the positive after the tantrum is said and done. “Even when your child does exhibit some type of problem behavior like a tantrum and you do need to react, putting in some kind of consequence, ‘clean the slate’ quickly,” says Dr. Orloff. Distract them with a new activity like a different toy, or simply pointing out a bird you see out the window. Then, “get back to giving the child eight positive interactions to every negative which will prevent most problem behaviors,” she says.