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Coping with toddler tantrums

We share our tips for beating the gruesome twosomes and coping with toddler tantrums.
Coping with toddler tantrums is one of the inevitability's of being a parent, they're as much a part of child development as learning to smile or speak (although undoubtedly less pleasant!). However, seeing your little baby turn into a screaming ball of fury is never a nice experience (especially when you're in public), making this one of the more stressful milestones.

Dealing with tantrum behaviour can be really difficult firstly because it's upsetting to see your little one so distraught but also for fear of being tarred with the label of 'bad parent' because your toddler is howling down the supermarket. Rest assured, you're not a bad parent and while those who don't have children may look and yes they may even judge a little (remember they have this joy of parenthood still to come), those with children of their own will empathise.

Some infants throw tantrums on a regular basis while others blow their fuse only occasionally. Regardless of which label your toddler fits under the good news is that they will grow out of it and however hard it is now, this tantrum behaviour will soon be banished to distant memory.

Why do toddlers tantrum?

Officially toddlers temper tantrum because they're overwhelmed by the frustration of wanting or needing something but not being able to express themselves enough to get it. In real terms this means they tantrum because they're tired, hungry, bored, want attention, don't want to do something or simply because they don't know what they want. Big life changes such as a new baby or a house move can also start of a spate of temper tantrums.

How to minimise the risk of a tantrum

While sometimes your toddler will fly off the handle whatever you do there are certain things you can try to minimise this 'erratic' behaviour.

Keep a regular routine

Toddlers need to feel secure to feel happy and a regular routine can help them feel comfortable with what's going on around them even if things are changing. Set meal, drink and snack times, an afternoon nap and structured bedtime routine (i.e. bath, story then bed) can all help your toddler stay calm and better able to understand their place in the complicated world around them.

Explain things in toddler talk

A lot of the frustration toddlers experience is because they don't understand why they're not allowed to do things. By explaining to your toddler why they are allowed to do some things but not others in terms they are able to comprehend (no matter how basic) will help them to cope when you say no.

Be prepared

Over time you're likely to notice that certain things set your toddler off on a temper tantrum. Whether this is going down the sweet isle at the supermarket or putting on their coat on before they go outside, employing a diversionary tactic can help keep your little one calm. Keeping your toddler's favourite toy or book in your bag can be a good idea so that you can whip it out with a 'ta da' when their bottom lip starts shaking - not a flawless plan but one that can sometimes work.

Reward good behaviour

Tantrums can be a cry for attention and if you consistently reward your toddler for doing this (i.e. giving them something to 'make it better') they can learn that throwing themselves on the floor crying is the quickest way to get whatever they want. To prevent this you should focus on ignoring tantrum behaviour and reward good behaviour only. That's not to say ignore them after they've had a tantrum as you'll need to let them know that everything is still ok (a big hug is the best way to do this) but rather placing greater emphasis on their good behaviour is the way to go, perhaps adding a star to a chart every time they have a 'good day'.

Be consistent

Perhaps most importantly of all you should be consistent in your parenting approach. Letting your toddler know that you're in charge is important and will actually help them to feel more secure and consequently reduce tantrum behaviour. To do this you'll need to stick to your guns (something easier said than done when you're dealing with a ball of rage!), if you said that your toddler had to put on their coat before the tantrum follow this through after they've calmed down, similarly don't let them have sweets or go outside simply because they've tantrumed to get their demands met. Consistency in your approach will help them to learn that throwing a temper tantrum isn't acceptable behaviour and definitely isn't the way to get whatever they want.

It can help if you agree with your partner, grandparents and anyone else who spends time looking after your child guidelines about what they're allowed to do, eat and play with so that it's easier for your little one to understand and conform to the rules governing their world.

What to do when your toddler tantrums

Toddlers tantrum in different ways, some stand and scream, others go rigid and stare while others flail about on the floor and unfortunately there is no guaranteed fix to calm your little one down when they are mid flow. However, there are a few tricks that are definitely worth a try:

Stay calm

However difficult it may be it's really important that you stay as calm as possible. Getting worked up yourself will only make matters worse and make it even harder to calm your toddler down. If you find it difficult not to get stressed by your toddlers behaviour find a diversionary tactic for yourself, either counting to ten, taking some deep breaths or even putting your toddler in their cot or play pen and taking a five minute break.

Keep them out of harms way

When toddlers have a temper tantrum they often completely lose control of their behaviour which can mean that they hurt themselves. When your toddler starts to tantrum make sure you take them out of harms way, you could try holding them gently although if this seems to set them off even more, moving anything that could potentially be a 'hazard' may be a better idea.

Get down on their level

When your toddler tantrums or looks like they're about to tantrum try sitting or kneeling down on the floor so that you can make direct eye contact with them. Reasoning with them in toddler language, doing something to distract them or giving them a hug can seem much more approachable from this position.

Pretend it isn't happening

Walking away a little and looking like you're not paying attention to the tantrum (while still keeping a sly eye on them) can calm your toddler down pretty quickly once they realise they've lost their audience.

Do you have any tried and tested tantrum beating tricks that you could share with other AskBaby parents or are you simply left feeling stressed and drained by your little one's outlandish behaviour? Why not visit the AskBaby forums to share your advice, concerns and experiences with other parents?

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You do know that if you let your baby cry as long as there is nothing wrong with him then you could put him in his crib or play pin and let him cry, eventually he will get tired of crying or he will cry himself to sleep and wake up feeling better. My Dr. told me to do that with one of my babies. It's not being mean but he knows how to control you already and you need to nip it in the bud before it gets any worse.
by Dhanushi 5th Dec 2011, 10:29am
I have a naughty and trantrum step, my daughter goes to sit there now even before i tell her too, on the step is a book she seems to focus on the book as she loves them and the tantrum does not last long each time it happens her it gets shorter. i have also tried my best for all family that she stays with to continue wht i have started
by happynanny 14th May 2010, 4:03pm
My daughter is 19 months old and she was the perfect baby for 13 months of her life, but now she has turned into a screaming howling dervish of a little girl and just about everything sets her off, putting her coat on, nappy changing, mealtimes, getting in her buggy, bedtimes, just about anything that she is not in the mood to do, I am at my wits end, she has reduced me to tears on many occasions, and when she explodes she is virtually uncontrollable, she is so strong that she seems to be even stronger than me. I
am even worried she may have behavioural problems. She can be very loving at times always kissing and cuddling but the flipside is very different - the complete Jekyll and Hyde scenario. I am hopeful
she WILL grow out of it but that seems very far away at the moment, I do try and ignore her when she starts and stay calm but she is so loud that we may start getting complaints from our neighbours as she tends to wake up in the very early hours of the morning and scream at the top of her voice, my husband and I often suffer from serious sleep deprivation because of her. Please help we are in need of some good advice. Thanks.
by jojo2277 27th Jan 2010, 9:35am
take something of his he really likes each time he does it and show him its being put out of his reach . he will soon realise what the results of his throwing .
by katiesmum 21st Jan 2010, 9:21am
I tried distraction - which works in the very early stages - like, say no, you can't have it, then follow immediately with: Oh my God! Did you see that? point to the window...A Pink Areoplane! wow...lets go outside to see where its going...when they are nice - say - thankyou for being so good when I said no - grown-up boy/girl - hugs and kisses- do you want to look through a magazine with me? It works ONLY if you catch it early - if it's full swing, then I don't have the answer...I tried everything, and my 5 year old still has one about every fortnight! it's just what they do!!! LOL
by Lynneth 29th Jan 2009, 8:54am
Hi bunny41, I would try to just ignore him when he does that (very difficult, I know) and when he stops throwing things (however long that takes) and does something else, give him your attention fully. He might make the connection after you've both gone through this process a few times. Good luck!
by TeddyTum 19th Sep 2008, 8:56am
i have a 2 year old little boy if he doesnt get what he wants he picks things up and throws them what do i do
by bunny41 24th Jun 2008, 8:44am