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Toddler tantrums

Temper temper

Try to rise above the tantrums. They won’t last forever. Here’s how to stay cool and feel in control.

If there’s one thing toddlers do well, it’s throwing a tantrum. The peak time for tantrums is around 2 years old. With good management they will usually begin to fade by 3, and by the age of 4 most toddlers have worked out that there are better ways to get what they want. A full-on temper tantrum is tough for you and frightening for your child. The good news is that a few simple strategies will prevent or contain most of your child’s tantrums.

Why tantrums happen

Tantrums are your wee one’s way to express the frustrations of being a toddler. At this age, children are learning to do many things, from talking to controlling their growing bodies. They want to do so much, but are often held back by their capabilities. At the same time, they’re grappling with the rules of the world  – and the fact that some things are not allowed. Because your little one can’t tell you what they’re feeling inside, they end up screaming and throwing themselves around.

But although a toddler in the throes of a tantrum can seem all-powerful, they may be scared by the intensity of their rage. However helpless you may feel, you are the one in charge and need to do everything possible to get that message across. That doesn’t mean having a tantrum yourself or shouting. These are actually signs that you are out of control. What it does mean is being prepared for tantrums and having some tricks up your sleeve to help you deal with them.

Tantrum control

Try to prevent tantrums

Giving praise is good way to start. Your time and attention are the most important things to your child, so if they learn to get it by throwing a tantrum, they’ll continue down that path. Reward good behaviour whenever you see it by giving them praise and cuddles and kisses.

Spotting the early warning signs of a tantrum is the key to stopping it spiralling out of control. Try to become aware of triggers such as tiredness, hunger, being too hot or too cold and, where possible, try to avoid situations that you know are likely to spark an outburst, such as supermarket checkouts and busy shopping centres. Distract your child if you see them gearing up for a tantrum. Sing a funny song, suggest they help to look for a toy or take them to another room – anything that shifts their attention. Giving them a choice over some aspects of their life can help stop tension building up. You could allow them to make certain decisions, such as what shoes to wear or whether to brush their teeth before or after their bath. If they make choices that aren’t important they feel they have some input, without you losing your authority.

Think about what supports might help you at this time. Some parents feel that talking to other parents with children of a similar age can be reassuring. While they might not have any answers, just talking things through can be really helpful. A parent and toddler group can be a great place to meet other parents to chat with.

Connecting with your toddler

Making sure your toddler feels connected to you, cared for and safe is important to help their behaviour. It gives them the foundation they need to manage stress as they grow up. Showing interest in what they’re doing can help. So can physical contact. A hug can make them feel safe and loved, and help calm their mood.

If you’re finding your toddler acting up more than usual, try to set aside short times during the day when you and your child can chat with no distractions. Get face to face if you can or down to their level.

See what your child is interested in and talk about that, and give them time to respond. Then copy what they say and add to it, and so on. This is called “serve and return” interaction and is a powerful way to build language and help your child cope with their emotions. Children treasure these times, and it helps them feel in touch even when they are by themselves again later.

Children at this age can behave in ways that are disruptive, or they can have tantrums or suddenly refuse to do something at the most inconvenient time. Try to ignore these behaviours - if you can! Wind-ups and temper tantrums are often just ways to get your attention.

Try to keep as calm as you can and help them work out what’s wrong. Sometimes the behaviour is your child’s way of telling you that they feel frustrated or lonely or need some peace and quiet.

Once the annoying behaviour or temper tantrum is over, try to find something positive to notice about what your child is doing. Positive reinforcement is really important in dealing with their behaviour.

Being a parent is the best job in the world, but it can also be one of the most stressful. There will be days when it all feels a little too much. To help you manage the challenges ahead, Parent Club has some tips on coping with being a parent and keeping calm with your wee one so you can build a rewarding relationship together.

Animation of cartoon character frustration meter

Animation of cartoon character frustration meter

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Behaviour Behaviour tips Toddler (1-3 years)

Last updated: 21 Jul, 2021