Tantrums during the toddler years are NOT a result of your parenting. You didn’t do anything wrong. Temper tantrums during the toddler years are a normal, inevitable, even necessary part of growing up. When your toddler tantrums, don’t take it personally, it happens because of your toddler’s stage of development combined with his temperament. In striving to become more independent and to develop his autonomy, your toddler will inevitably tantrum.
Toddlers have an intense desire to do things by themselves. You may hear lots of “I do it!” during this stage. Because many toddlers do not yet have the verbal skills to express frustration nor an emotional vocabulary to draw from, they may express frustration and anger using their entire bodies as well as their loud screaming voices. When they do this in public, parents can feel embarrassed.
There are two types of toddler tantrums: frustration tantrums and the “I want to be the boss” tantrums. Parents may need to respond to these two types of tantrums with different words, but the approach should be the same.
Frustration tantrums require special empathy. Many times he may not even understand why he feels the way he feels. He just knows he is overwhelmed and out of control. He needs help from the grown-ups to be pulled back together again. Offer him a helping hand and a comforting “it’s OK”. Help him to build an emotional vocabulary while providing empathy by saying something like “You are showing me you are really mad and frustrated! I really get it!! And I will stay here with you until you calm down and feel better.” When your toddler’s rage lessens you can pick him up, place him in your lap, and help him to recover. When he recovers you can say caringly, “Tell Mommy what you want”. This encourages him to use words or body language to communicate his feelings and needs so that eventually he doesn’t have to act them out. If he is not able to tell you what he wants, you can give him the words. Before long he will be able to tell you himself.
The “I want to be the boss” tantrums also require empathy. However, these are the tantrums that frequently push our buttons and therefore are harder to manage. If you are a volatile person with a short fuse, it may be easy for your child to trigger an explosion from you which ends in a screaming match with no winners. Stay calm. Don’t take it personally. Say something like, “You are showing me how much you want to be the boss of bedtime. And you are really mad that Mommy said you have to get into bed now. Bedtime is a ‘Mommy decision.’ What you wear to toddler group in the morning is a ‘Max decision.’ So now it’s time to get into bed.” You then pick Max up and put him into his bed. If he is physically out of control you may need to use the “safe hold”. This will keep him from hurting himself or hurting others until he calms down. Say “I’m going to hold you until you have calmed down”. This can take anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes.
When toddlers are having tantrums, they are usually overwhelmed. The recommended response is to acknowledge your toddler’s anger, frustration, or with to be the boss. Don’t talk too much, but do use “feeling words” and help your toddler to develop a “feeling vocabulary.” Follow through by holding and remaining close. If at home, provide your toddler with support in his “calm down spot”. When the tantrum is over, move on with your day.
Some parents prefer to walk away from their tantruming toddlers and leave them alone rather than staying close and providing support. Toddlers are not yet able to handle their strong, out-of-control feelings all alone. When a parent walks away from his tantruming toddler or puts him in a room by himself, the toddler learns that his big feelings, his anger and his frustration may drive away the most important people in his life. He may come to believe that mommy and daddy can’t tolerate his big feelings and so he needs to stuff them away deep inside. This doesn’t help him to learn to deal with his big feelings. It does teach him that his strong feelings are bad. As adults we know how important it is to have control over our emotions and to know when to express our feelings and when to not express them. Unfortunately, when young children get the idea that strong feelings are bad, they may learn to over-control their feelings. The result may be a child who grows to be an adult who is not able to express feelings even when he wants to express them. He may lose his ability to be open and spontaneous.
Some parents prefer to use a “time out” when their toddler tantrums. Again, this only serves to teach the toddler that his strong feelings are bad. Instead of a “time out”, we recommend that parents set up a “calm down spot” somewhere in the house. Your toddler can help you set it up. Find some soft pillows, a soft blanket, some special books and a stuffed animal and place them in a corner somewhere. This becomes the place to where your toddler can retreat to recover from his upset. You go with your toddler and sit with him there. This is not a punishment and should never be called “time out” or “naughty chair”. It is a place that your child will begin to associate with calming down and regulating when he feels he is headed towards “out of control”.
With practice and support from their parents, children eventually learn to anticipate when they are headed towards “out of control”, and they will head to their calm down spot by themselves. They learn what they need to do to become regulated and back in control.
1. Identify the trigger.
2. Don’t take it personally.
3. In a public place, stay calm and take your toddler to a private place.
4. Plan ahead.
5. Utilize the “safe hold” if your toddler is out of control.
6. Pick your battles.
7. Remember that once your toddler develops language skills to express her needs in words, the tantrums stage will end.
1. Sensitively respond to infant and toddler cues.
2. Minimize triggers.
3. Know your own anger buttons.
wrote by: Marilee Hartling & Paula Boscardin