November 4, 2010

Tackling Tantrums

Doyle,-Rondi-NEW-colorBy Rondi Doyle
Director of Community Relations
Child Abuse Council

Temper tantrums are a normal part of growing up. All children have them. Often they happen for different reasons at different ages. Sometimes they take you by surprise and sometimes they are predictable. Tantrums usually occur when kids are tired, hungry, frustrated, or all three.

But understanding the cause of tantrums will help parents, and grandparents, anticipate when one is about to happen. Every child will throw a tantrum at some point, but there are ways to deal with tantrum episodes and prevent them from happening again.

• Toddler-proof your home by placing dangerous and breakable things out of reach.
• Have clear routines to your child’s day; for example regular lunch, nap, bath and bedtimes.
• Plan ahead, keeping an eye on frustration levels so you can step in before they go over the top.
• Provide lots of opportunities for your child to let off steam every day—running around outside or at the playground, or dancing to music.
• Give children some control and choice over what to eat, wear or play with.
• Use distractions and diversions for as long as they work—a new toy, a changed activity, a song or game.

If tantrums do happen…
• Try ignoring it, by walking into another room or just carrying on with your own tasks.
• Use calming techniques to lower your own stress levels—deep breathing, relaxing your muscles, positive talk inside your head.
• If ignoring your child hasn’t worked, try jollying him or her out of his or her bad mood. Say something like, “Time to stop now—I’ll count to 10”, and then give plenty of praise if the tantrum stops.

Tips for cutting down tantrums…
• Aim for some happy, relaxed times every day—reading a story, visiting the park, playing a game.
• Cut down negatives—constantly saying ‘No’ will add to a child’s frustration. Instead, use phrases like ‘later’, or ‘after lunch’.
• Keep aware of new stresses, such as potty training and starting daycare, which may need more understanding.
• Respect your child’s feelings. Feeling understood will reduce your child’s need for tantrums. Try saying, ‘I know that makes you mad’ or ‘That must have made you feel sad’. Your child will see that their feelings matter and can gradually learn to put them into words, saying “I’m angry” instead of acting it out.

Remember your little one is growing faster than they can verbally communicate. Often a tantrum may stem from the frustration of not being understood. Most children do grow out of the need for tantrums when they have more language and understanding. But the way you deal with them in the toddler years is important. If they are handled harshly, with responses like yelling and smacking, or if you constantly ignore your child’s feelings and need for comfort, they may well become worse and carry on for longer.

Try to be as sensitive as possible to your child’s language. Help them learn signs for simple things and do everything possible to create safe loving way to communicate with each other.

For more information about the Child Abuse Council’s prevention and education programs, you can visit us at or contact me at