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What to do when your toddler throws a tantrum

When your baby or toddler is getting upset you can feel a bit helpless. They can't really explain what's wrong and you often have no idea what has caused that ear-splitting outburst in the supermarket aisle. Here are some tips from parents to help you when it’s “one of those moments”.

Stopping the tantrum before it happens

Tip #1: Black holes

There will be times when they just won't want to tidy up. So make it a bit more fun for them. You could try pretending their toy box is a black hole and all the toys are getting sucked into it. Make the noises as everything flies across the room into the box. And maybe rescue your little one at the end - black holes can be very powerful!

Your child’s development: Doing chores has been shown to set kids up to do well even they're well into adulthood! Make it into a game and do it together!

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Tip #2: Why thank you!

Try passing toys back and forth between the two of you, saying please and thank you each time.

Your child’s development: Games where you go back and forth are good for learning manners.

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Tip #3: Use funny hand gestures

When you're chatting to your little one, use hand gestures to accompany the words. You could even do it in funny voices.

Your child’s development: Hand gestures help your child figure out what words mean. These all help them build their personal vocabulary.

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Tip #4: Distract them first

You'll know your child well enough to tell if a tantrum's on its way. If you sense it's all about to kick off then find something to distract them with and nip it in the bud. It could be something you can see out of the window. "Look! A cat!". Try to sound as interested as you can. The surprise and sudden change in conversation can help distract them. Then you can turn it into a game: "what can you see?"

Your child’s development: Toddlers have shorter attention spans so they can be distracted easily. Take advantage of it while you can!

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Tip #5: Shopping lists

Before going out shopping, draw some of your child's favourite items (or cut out of magazines) and let them give them responsibility for the "shopping list".

Your child’s development: As children get older, they want to be more independent and to be in control of things. That can often mean more tantrums. Use it to your advantage by giving them little things they can be in charge of. This tip will also help your fussy eaters eat up!

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Tip #6: Calm down with storytime

Cuddle up and read a book together. It's a quick and easy way to distract them from whatever is irritating them, and you can give them lots of positive attention while you're at it.

Your child’s development: Books are a great way to help your child learn about themselves, their world, and even their emotions. What do they think the character in the book is feeling? What happens when they feel sad/happy/grumpy?

Stories really help them with their language – you'll often find that as their words grow, and they can say more about what’s bothering them, their tantrums will start to die down.

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Stopping a tantrum while it's happening

Tip #1: Why is the tantrum happening?

Photo of toddler in cot

Photo of toddler in cot

It's dead easy to get carried away in the moment and shout at them when they're screaming the house down. Instead, try whispering to see if they will listen. They might be tired or hungry. Or feeling frustrated or jealous. Talking to them will help you discover the cause and what you need to do to get everything back to normal.

Your child’s development: Remember those teachers who always got the class to quiet down because they stayed calm when everyone was getting rowdy? This trick is just like that. If you whisper, they often quieten down to match you.

Talking to kids and soothing them when they're upset helps them to grow up feeling happy and loved. Studies show that shouting doesn't make kids behaviour better. It shows that it can make them grow up to be more anxious and aggressive. So best to avoid it when you can.

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Tip #2: Name it

Sometimes toddlers will get to boiling point because they don't know how to tell you what they are feeling. Doing little activities like colouring in "emotions" can help them to tell you how they're feeling. For example, you could do some colouring in together, with "red" for angry, "yellow" for happy, "blue" for sad, "green" for jealousy, etc. Then when they're getting upset or having a bad day you can ask "are you feeling red right now?". If they’re not talking yet, try helping them to point – e.g. at colours on a keyring.

Your child’s development: Toddlers are experiencing a lot of intense emotions for the first time. They need your help to deal with them.

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Tip #3: Change location

Photo of a toddler beating a pot as a drum

Photo of a toddler beating a pot as a drum

Coming back inside when you've been out, or nipping outside when you've been in, can quickly change their mood too. This is all about distraction!

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Tip #4: Mirror mirror

When they're screwing their faces up or smiling, try to mirror their expressions but in an understanding way. Saying "I know how you feel", or "I hear what you're saying" when they're having a moan helps them feel understood a little better.

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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.

Gif of animated character getting frustrated

Gif of animated character getting frustrated

Last updated: 21 Aug, 2020