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Overcoming temper tantrums in toddlers

How to deal with your child's emotional outburst in a positive and healthy way

08 Aug '23
5 min read



You’re in a department store with your toddler getting groceries and suddenly your little one decides to fall down on the floor and cry his/her heart out asking for a toy or sometimes 

for no evident reason that you can point out at all. This has happened to many of us parents when we are out with our children. You know that your child is throwing a ‘temper tantrum’ but you sometimes do not know how to handle it or help your child overcome it. 

A temper tantrum is a sudden emotional outburst of anger, frustration, sadness or disorganised behaviour in your child. It can show up as screaming, whining, running away, falling down, throwing things, hurting themselves or others. Temper tantrums are a normal part of a child aged 1.5 - 3 years. Children of that age are still in their formative stage of social, emotional and language development. So, often when they do not know how to communicate a need or desire, they get frustrated. Tantrums are a way to manage their feelings and understand how their behaviour affects the environment around them. Older children sometimes throw tantrums too when they have not learnt to manage their feelings. 

Dealing with a temper tantrum

In the Indian context, often as parents, we are worried of being judged when our child throws a fit in a public place. However, it is important to not give in to a temper tantrum as this will give an indication to the child that his/her inappropriate behaviour will be rewarded with what he wants. 

Dr Sreedevi J, an expert in child psychology says “Parents should not give into tantrums thrown by children. This encourages negative reinforcement in the child, encouraging the child to use the technique again to fulfil his/her needs.The ideal thing to do is to ignore the child’s attention-seeking behaviour and soothe or calm the child after the tantrum subsides.”

  • You can move the child to a different place when he/she throws a tantrum. A change in surroundings can have a calming effect on the child, especially if it was a crowd or noise that was triggering the tantrum in the first place. 
  • Small children are easily distracted. So, parents can try to distract the child by engaging them in a different activity. 
  • Parents can negotiate with the child an alternative to what they are asking for. 

Preventing tantrums

Parents can reduce the frequency of temper tantrums in their children by adopting some simple rules and being consistent with them. 

  • Set routines and stick with them : Children need set routines when it comes to eating, sleeping and play times. A well-rested child is less likely to throw a tantrum without a reason. 
  • Give your child the power of choice : Giving choices to your child gives them a sense of control as opposed to being told what to do every time. For example, “Would you like me to read you a book or would you like to sing a song together?”  or “Would you like apples or bananas for a snack?”
  • Praise good behaviour: It is important to reward good behaviour when the child listens to you. Give your child a hug and praise when he/she sticks to a schedule or manages to complete a task. 
  • Understand your child better: Knowing your child’s hunger and sleep schedules and planning ahead can avoid tantrums in public. If you’re going shopping and you know that your child will be hungry in an hour, carry snacks. Do not force the child to do anything when they are sleepy, hungry or cranky. 
  • Be firm and consistent about your rules and negotiations: It is important that your child knows that there are no loop-holes to important rules set by the parent. 
  • Be a role model: Children imitate their parents' behaviour all the time. If you handle a tantrum or frustration calmly, they are more likely to do the same in future. 

Temper tantrums are equally taxing on the parent as it is on the child. As a parent, it is okay to take a break and take a deep breath to calm yourself down before reacting to the child. Dr Sreedevi says “You can keep your child in a safe spot like a play pen or a crib and take a few minutes off to rewind. Listen to your favourite song or practice mindfulness and calm yourself down before getting back to your child. Refrain from spanking the child when the child is throwing a tantrum.” 

Hunger and fatigue are two of the most common triggers for a tantrum and these are in control of the parents. Temper tantrums are very normal and an essential part of growing up. However, if the tantrums are getting worse with age, and continues above 5 years of age, if your child is not meeting developmental milestones, it is best to meet a doctor and discuss the matter. Sometimes, tantrums can be related to developmental delays or sensory issues and it is best to sort them out earlier than later. 



Category : Parenting and Family


Written by Parvathy Jayakrishnan