How to handle toddler tantrums

Is your toddler throwing tantrums, refusing to do as their told, not eating as they used to, crying more frequently and generally a lot more difficult to deal with? It looks like you’re in the terrible twos!

The terrible twos are a slightly misleading phrase, as they can start any time from age one, and last beyond age three. 

During this time your toddler will cry more frequently, be harder to reason with, and have tantrums. 

A tantrum isn’t just crying, it’s a full-blown meltdown involving flailing limbs, loud screaming, a very red face and zero control. 

When they happen in public it can be awful. 

Just this week my two-year-old threw an epic tantrum when we were at soft play. This should have been a place where she would run off happily and play.

She’s a very outgoing little girl, who loves to climb and jump, so soft play is like her idea of heaven. 

However on this day she was overtired from a morning at nursery, so she had a short temper. Every little thing upset her, from other kids accidentally brushing by her, to not getting first dibs on the slide. 

When she lost it, she did that classic tantrum thing of stamping her feet and flapping her arms around in frustration. 

When it all got too much and she really lost it, she screamed uncontrollably. I tried to comfort her but she couldn’t decide if she wanted me to cuddle her or put her down. Whatever I did, she wanted the opposite. 

I was at a child-friendly place with a friend who is very chilled out and understanding. However when tantrums hit in awkward places, such as when you’re in the supermarket or out for a meal, it can be really tough to keep your cool. 

Not only do tantrums makes you feel embarrassed, but it can be really tough to maintain your patience when your baby is being so unreasonable. 

How to cope with toddler tantrumsHow to cope with toddler tantrums

Although your toddler is out of control, you don’t have to feel out of control. 

There is a very key thing you can do to keeping your cool in these situations. Want to know the secret? Let’s take a closer look at the terrible twos, what they are and what you can do to survive them. 

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What are the terrible twos?

The terrible twos strike from around 18 months and describe a shift in behaviour with your child. The terrible twos is basically a term for a phase your child will go through where they throw tantrums more frequently. 

Tantrums are a completely normal part of growing up. A child does not tantrum because you are a bad parent, or because you have done anything wrong. 

They strike because your child is going through a lot of changes. They are learning a lot physically between the ages of one and four, plus they are processing a lot of new mental information too. 

Toddlers start to want more independence, and when they cannot do everything for themselves as they like, they can lash out in frustration. 

Toddlers are learning to talk, process emotions and express what they want. This is all pretty heavy stuff to deal with, and when your child feels overwhelmed they will lash out and get upset. 

Other causes of tantrums include tiredness, hunger, feeling ignore and feeling worried or anxious. 

What to do when your toddler is having a tantrum

So your toddler is throwing a tantrum. Wherever you are, you need to remember one thing above all others: 

Remain calm and don’t panic. 

Sounds silly doesn’t it? Because if you’re in the middle of a public place, you’re tired and your child is screaming at you because you’re buying them just one chocolate bar, not two, the last thing you’re going to feel is zen. 

But, how you behave can decide whether this tantrum spirals on for another hour, or gets nipped in the bud within 10 minutes. 

The temptation is to shout back and tell your toddler off for misbehaving in public. The trouble is, you’re trying to reason with someone who is beyond reason. Try to remember that shouting and losing your own temper will not help. It’s tough, but try to have this in your mind. 

The next thing to do is ignore your child’s behaviour. Carry on with what you were doing, as best as you can. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t comfort your crying child, I just mean you should carry on cooking, shopping or having the conversation you were having. By all means pick them up and give them a cuddle if they will let you. If they’re kicking about and screaming in a pile on the floor, just leave them to it. 

Try not to answer back to your child after the initial exchange. When you’ve reinforced that your child shouldn’t behave like this, ignore them until they have calmed down. 

When your child has calmed down, praise any good behaviour. Try to reinforce this by describing their behaviour when it is good, rather than just saying “good girl”, say “good girl for putting those toys away so well”.

When you’re praising your child, or asking them to stop a negative behaviour, it can really help to get down to your child’s level when you speak to them. 

Get down on your knees and look them in the eye, and make physical contact by putting a gentle hand on their shoulder, or holding their hand. This is a nice way of engaging with your child on their level. 

How to prevent a tantrum

Planning is key when it comes to preventing a temper tantrum. 

You can head off tantrums by doing the following: 

Manage boredom

If you’re going somewhere such as a boring appointment that will involve a lot of waiting, bring books, toys and games to distract your child for the appropriate length of time. 

Distract them

Diverting your child’a attention can help to nip tantrums in the bud quickly. Point something out or ask them a question about something you did recently that they enjoyed. 

Keeping them well rested

A tired toddler is more likely to throw a tantrum. One of the problems around the terrible twos is a lot of kids are dropping their nap at this age. Try to encourage them to rest if they are refusing to nap. 

Manage hunger

Try to have healthy snacks on offer when you are out and about. This can help to distract your child, and means they will manage to cope until their next meal. 

The key to surviving the terrible twos

So what is the ultimate key to surviving the terrible twos? What can you do to deal with these tantrums?

My ultimate word to remember is: Boundaries. 

Set your toddler boundaries. When they challenge them, be firm and consistent as you lay down the law. 

This does not require you to be angry or lose your patience. It just means that you maintain and reinforce those boundaries you’ve set. 

If your toddler is having a tantrum because you won’t let them have another ice cream, remind them of the rules and if they do throw a tantrum, ignore them. 

This way, you have been clear on the rules, but you are not rewarding bad behaviour by giving in to them or losing your own temper. 

Once your child has calmed down, remember to be positive and praise them for good behaviour. 

Of course no one is perfect! Seriously, there are no perfect parents, so stop worrying that you might be failing while everyone else is flourishing. 

Sometimes you will give in and forget the boundaries. That’s totally normal. Sometimes we just want the crying to stop fast!

It’s important to remember that while the boundaries need to be there, you also need to be kind. To your toddler, and to yourself. 

The odd bribery to keep your toddler quiet is not the end of the world!

I hope you found these tips useful, if you have any questions please get in touch!



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How to handle toddler tantrumsHow to handle toddler tantrums