When my little one turned 3, we signed him up for T-ball. It was the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. He had little baseball pants and the tiniest little baseball glove. He was excited to try something new all on his own and we were thrilled to have our little bundle of energy running around for a reason. And we were right – 3 was the perfect age for him to start a sport and he loved it. What he didn’t love though was when he had to leave the field. Each and every time the game was over and it was time to come off of the field, he would melt down into a big toddler-sized temper tantrum for the entire town to see. I’m talking arms waving, legs kicking, and voice screaming, “I don’t want to go hommmme!” All of that right there at the edge of the field. We were mortified, of course. But we knew it was important to stand our ground. So, we let him cry it out. We remained extremely calm. We walked away until he calmed down enough to regain some of his composure. We explained to him all the logistics of how long a game lasts and how he would be back to play again the next week. Though there were a few looks of disdain, we were mostly greeted with thumbs up from seasoned parents who had obviously been there before. Once our son knew what to expect, knew he would have a snack and drink waiting on him in the car and once he knew he would really be able to do this thing all over again the next week, the tantrums subsided. Thankfully, we now exit the field like a normal bunch of people. I know our story isn’t unique, temper tantrums are a normal part of early childhood development. If you’ve never experienced the wave of developmental tantrums, you can be fiercely underprepared for the battle. Here’s a list of six tantrum-proof ways to positively parent your child through the temper tantrum stage.
Temper tantrums mostly hit during the toddler years, when a child’s body is growing faster than their communication skills can keep up. They may feel frustrated about what they’re feeling but can’t quite express it yet through words. Usually, tantrums are kicked off when a child is hungry or tired or can’t control something in their world that they want or need. Temper tantrums usually start between 12 to 18 months of age and peak from ages 2 to 3. They usually decrease by the age of 4 when vocabulary skills and cognitive development get stronger. According to an article in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 75 percent of temper tantrums last less than five minutes. They may include crying, screaming, kicking, wailing and pouting.
So what’s rule numero uno when it comes to temper tantrums? Let them have a moment. It’s best to ignore the behavior while it’s happening especially if your child is trying to control the situation by pushing your buttons or trying to make you give in to his demands. Giving in or providing extra attention to a child who is seeking just that can make the situation much worse. If you’re at home, go to another room until the tantrum subsides. If you’re in a public place, stay in eyesight of your child but noticeably ignore them, like by looking at your watch or reading the back of a book or magazine. Once the child notices that you’re not going to give in and that you’re not paying attention to him, the tantrum will usually stop on its own. If a tantrum is showing no ends of stopping, you can move your child to a different place, like the car or another room. If a child is ever kicking, biting, or destroying things around them, they should be removed from the situation immediately as to not hurt themselves or others.
When your child is throwing a fit and you know that they know better, it can be so frustrating for a parent. But, you must remain calm during the situation. Getting frustrated will only make the situation worse. Speak in a calm, reassuring voice. The softer you speak, the better! Not raising your voice can show your child that you are in control of the situation even though they feel like they aren’t.
If your child is acting out because they can’t find the words to say, they could be feeling out of control of their situation and frustrated. In this case, it may be best to give them a strong hug that shows them, you’re here and in control and that you love them. This can help a child let go of their frustration and trust that they are loved and that it will be okay. Another key to being the parent in charge is making sure you provide consistent rules for discipline and a schedule that kids can learn to expect each day. This helps them understand what is expected of them and what they can prepare for each day. Inconsistency and haphazard schedules can mean you’re setting yourself up for many tantrums throughout the day.
Deflecting temper tantrums can have many elements. First, you need to understand your child and what sets off a tantrum. Is it a trip to the grocery store? Is it when they have to sit still too long? Is it to come in from playing outside? Is it every time they are sleepy or hungry? Knowing your child’s temperament can help you battle tantrums ahead of time. For instance, if you’re going to go to the grocery store, tell them ahead of time that you won’t be getting any candy at the counter. Remind them that they can pick out a fun cereal or a meal for the week but tell them you expect that they will act politely at the checkout. Giving a child something to work for and an expected rule can help them control the event before they get upset. Make sure also that your child feels secure, loved, understood and valued during their every day. This will cause them to feel the need to act out less.
Remember in the throes of a tantrum, you are still looking for the long-term goals of parenting. Make sure to teach your child how to self-soothe, make decisions by offering them choices, know what is expected of them and help guide them through understanding why they feel frustrated and how to handle it appropriately. Being a support system for your little one can help them understand how to learn and grow safely and sweetly.
 U.S. National Library of Medicine. Medical Encyclopedia, “Temper tantrums.” link
 Potegal MI, Kosorok MR, Davidson RJ; Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. “Temper tantrums in young children: 2. Tantrum duration and temporal organization.” link
 Pediatrics & Child Health. “Effective Discipline: A Healthy Approach.” link
About the Author:
Tracy E. Brown is a journalist and educator with over 14 years of experience working in the field of Child Development. She is currently the Assistant Editor of Black Dress/Red Wagon Magazine in Atlanta, Ga. and previous Associate Editor at Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine. She previously taught preschool at the Goddard School in Farragut, Tennessee and taught Kindergarten for Dekalb County Schools in Atlanta. Other writing credits include the Green Building Research Institute, London’s facetheory.com, WBIR Channel 10 News, PBS, Duke University and American Airlines. She is also a mom to three adorable little ones.