Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
5 Best Ways To Handle Toddler Tantrums
Published Oct 15th, 2021 & updated on Jan 17th, 2022
Ohhhh, kids! The joys of learning and living with your little bestie! Until they go through a toddler tantrum and you BOTH find yourselves crying in the middle of the produce section…
Before you walk into the grocery store with your child, they’re happy and content and even excited to help you find a shopping cart! So you plop them in it and start walking down the aisles, hoping this will be a quick in-an-out trip. Your little shadow becomes enthralled with everything they see, from the colourful fruit to some of their favourite snacks, and their little hands start grabbing everything in sight. After some negotiations, you get the snack back from their hands successfully (or so you thought). But when your toddler realizes they are no longer holding the apple, cue the tears of outrage as their voice takes over the entire store.
SIGHHHH! Toddler tantrums are never fun, especially the “terrible twos.” But they are a natural aspect of childhood growth and are included in the reality of having a toddler. These meltdowns can occur when a kid is uncomfortable, frustrated, exhausted, unhappy, hungry, or when they want the comfort of a particular caregiver.
Coping with tough situations that do not go as planned is a skill children learn over time, and we know you want to help them cope during these moments. So let’s get into how to navigate toddler temper tantrums, shall we?
What Are Temper Tantrums?
When a child has a tantrum, this tells you that they are upset and expressing that frustration. Tantrums are a means for children to learn how to deal with their emotions. Child psychologist Dr. Carrie Jackson says, “because they don’t yet know how to recognize and express their feelings, they may do so by shrieking, crying, and bickering.”
Tantrums are most common in children between 1 to 3 years, a pivotal time when language skills are beginning to develop and often stem from trying to communicate a need, such as being hungry or wanting a toy or needing a changed diaper. These outbursts might range from pouting and sobbing to a bit of physical aggression. When kids throw a fit, it might feel like a power struggle since they are learning about their independence, wants, desires, and what they can control — and express that overtly.
When toddlers realize their independence, they may begin to utter words like “NO” or “ME.” They may become overwhelmed and need your support to deal with it. It might be something they have done before on their own, like putting on their jacket, but they find it difficult this time.
They are still learning how to manage all of their emotions, including negative ones. This can quickly escalate into a full-fledged tantrum. It is important to have in mind that you are not a “terrible parent” because your child had a tantrum, and that this is a considerable component of their development.
5 Best Ways To Handle Toddler Tantrums
Hearing and seeing your child’s tantrum, especially if it occurs in public, might cause you social anxiety or make you feel realllyyy humiliated. It shouldn’t, but we know it can! And because of that, one of your initial responses might be to raise your voice, try to persuade them or try to reason with them. Chances are that won’t work and you will eventually succumb to their requests to make it stop. Oof. The next time you’re at the grocery store, you’ll be dreading this vicious cycle again.
And if you’re thinking, “I’ve tried everything and I’m so tired,” just remember that it’s natural for parents to doubt themselves and their parenting style. This does not mean that you don’t love your child! You are doing everything you can to understand and help them. You’re even reading this article to find solutions.
Handling toddler tantrums is as much about self-regulating your own emotions as it is about paying attention to your child. If you’re not sure what that means or where to start, keep reading!
1. Learn To Self-Regulate Your Emotions
TBH your child is always watching you! Yes, even while throwing a fit. Children can sense their parents’ emotions, no matter how hard the parents try to keep them hidden. They model their behaviour after you and the way you respond to tantrums is a lesson itself.
This is when your ability to control your emotions comes into play! Self-regulation allows us to pause when we are experiencing emotions and manage how we respond to them in the moment. You become more self-aware when you improve your self-regulation, which is important when you’re setting boundaries with your child. Did you know self-regulation also helps you in other relationships? Yup. The self-awareness that you develop can help you approach conflict differently.
2. Let Them Feel all the Feels
Pretty much anything can set a child off. They want to feel protected at that point, and you, as their parent, are their safety net. When you affirm their emotions, you might learn and understand the feelings they are having.
For children to feel secure expressing their emotions, they must know they have opportunities to be heard. During their tantrum, make sure to clear anything in the immediate vicinity that might endanger them. That way, they may vent in a way that won’t hurt them, and they can let out their frustrations before pulling themselves back together with your support. As a soothing approach, you could ask them if they feel comfortable with a hug or if you can hold their hand.
As you soothe them, try using the following phrases:
I’ve got you.
It’s all right, sweetie.
Yes, I hear you, and I understand.
3. Figure Out Distractions To Help Them Cope
Tantrums might feel uncontrolled, especially if your child is screaming at the top of their lungs, but toddlers have a relatively short attention span and are easily distracted.
For example, if your child is at the playground and has been waiting for their time on the slide, and another toddler budges in, it can make your child angry. Which is a normal feeling. You can propose an alternative:
Hey love, it’s okay. Remember the blue tube is your favourite, so let’s go on it when you’re ready, okay?
You can also assist them with breathing exercises to help cool down.
With these techniques, you’ll be able to discover what works best for your child, and they’ll learn how to regulate their emotions through the tantrums constructively.
4. Learn Grounding Exercises Together
You’ve made it this far and we are so proud of you! Toddler tantrums can be really overwhelming so don’t think we’re not impressed. We’re hella impressed.
Remember how we mentioned earlier that toddlers model their behaviour after you? You can walk through grounding exercises together and show them this great coping skill they can use next time they feel overwhelmed by emotions.
A simple one you can teach them is the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise based on our 5 senses. Name 5 things you can see around you, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Practice this together a few times!
You can find so many more of these exercises in our DiveThru app! Take our “Managing Tantrums in Kids” course to learn why tantrums happen, why they’re so normal, and how to cope with one when it does happen. The best part? We created the course with Dr. Carrie Jackson, a child psychologist with so much experience in this field.
5. Reach Out for Professional Support
So you’ve done everything you can and have exhausted your available bandwidth! We know how that feels. You’re basically just begging the universe to send you your very own Mary Poppins.
It’s a great idea to reach out to your family doctor or therapist and talk to them about how you’re feeling. It does NOT imply that you aren’t a good parent. The opposite actually! It means that you want what’s best for you and your child and a mental health professional can definitely help with that.
Here are some warning signals to watch for when you should consider talking to a therapist or child psychologist:
- All the strategies you’ve tried don’t seem to be working
- Their behaviours impact school and how they interact with other children
- You notice an increase in aggressive behaviour and self-injury
You know your child best, so if you believe that certain emotions or behaviours they are displaying are unhealthy, discuss all of your concerns with your child’s physician. They might also refer you to a mental health expert for an examination to devise a strategy with you and your kid to confront these attitudes and emotions.
Temper tantrums are entirely natural in children as they learn how to cope with their emotions. They desire to be independent through these powerful feelings, yet they still crave your presence. So when your child throws a fit, it’s because they don’t yet have the communicative ability to express themselves verbally. We hope this article has empowered you to help your child learn to express themselves in healthier ways.