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Temper Tantrums | How can Parents Manage and Avoid Children's Tantrums?

Updated on January 30, 2014
Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

Tracy has been working in the field of education for many years specializing in both Waldorf and Montessori methodologies.

Dealing with temper tantrums is one of the most difficult challenges of raising children. While most often occurring during the period known as the 'terrible two’s', temper tantrums can strike at nearly any age. Learn how to manage and avoid your child’s temper tantrums.


Human beings love to be in control. We like to know what time our flight will take off for our next vacation, what time to be at work and what time our favorite TV show will be on. Conversely, when life becomes unpredictable, it makes people uncomfortable and sometimes even nervous. Before becoming a parent most adults enjoy a predictable and planned out life, involving a good sense of order. Before having my first child I worked as a Paralegal in NYC and enjoyed the predictability of my Long Island Railroad train leaving every morning at exactly 8:17AM, lunch promptly at 1pm and a return trip home on a train leaving from Penn Station at 5:37. The Swiss are revered for having the most reliable clocks and trains, human beings aspire to this sense of order and control. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earth quakes or any other unpredictable events beyond human control create a level of anxiousness in most people and a response of attempting to regain a sense of control. If you have ever been in the grocery store just after a storm warning announcement you will observe this level of nervous hysteria when you find only one dented carton of milk left on the shelf.

Now let’s imagine that there is an adult who is accustomed to a normal measure of control and they have their first child. Just after the child is born there remains this feeling of control, the early days of infancy are often fairly easy and predictable with the baby sleeping most of the time. Not long after this, temporary false sense of ease, many parents begin feeling a loss of control when the baby starts to cry and the parent cannot figure out what is wrong: Sometimes the baby is hungry or tired or they have soiled their diaper. Usually the parent will figure out what to do. Once the parent discovers a remedy the parent will have gained a reasonable sense of control and only a moderate level of anxiety. In the case of a colicky baby the parents will likely enter a less controllable experience.

Fast forward to the age of 18 months when the child’s ego starts to enter the picture, now the parent has to begin dealing with the anxiety laden experience known as a temper tantrum. There is no way to know exactly when or where it will happen but it WILL happen. I remember my friend relaying her first experience of her daughter having a temper tantrum at the checkout line at a big box retailer. She was already in the process of paying when suddenly, her daughter was screaming at the top of her lungs about wanting something that she had dropped or lost. Time suddenly stood still for her; she was paralyzed and mortified. She relayed to me that this was most awful experience of her life and she was afraid to go anywhere with her then 3 year old child again. She needed strategies, a plan; maybe she could exchange her child for a child with no temper. No such luck, children come with a no exchange, no return policy. There is however a lifetime guarantee of hard work.

But when it comes to temper tantrums it seems that parents are actually off the hook. A recent study reveals that the best thing to for a child having a temper tantrum is nothing. Yes, you read this right, I said ‘Nothing’. Do nothing, say nothing, don’t react, and don’t respond. Even I was surprised to learn this, although I think I had figured it out through trial and error that there really was nothing I could do when any of my kids was having their respective ‘moments’. A Psychiatrist told me this when I was having trouble with the temper tantrums of my son who has ADD, but I thought the Dr. must be mistaken because I wanted to hang onto some thread of hope that I had even a minute level of control over my son's temper tantrums. It is basic human nature for people to want to control things, fix things or manipulate our world.

In a study based on the sounds children make during temper tantrums, scientists Michael Potegal and James Green found that:

The trick to getting a tantrum to end as soon as possible… was to get the child past the peaks of anger. Once the child was past being angry, what was left was sadness, and sad children reach out for comfort. The quickest way past the anger, the scientists said, was to do nothing. Of course, that isn't easy for parents or caregivers to do…When I'm advising people about anger, I say, 'There's an anger trap…Even asking questions can prolong the anger — and the tantrum.

Although there is nothing that you can do to ‘fix’ your child’s temper tantrums there are many things you can do to avoid them. Here is a subject that I have certainly specialized in both as a teacher and a parent. Here are my tried and true methods for avoiding temper tantrums in kids, and if there are any cranky adults that you know you many want to test these out on them as well.

Top 5 Ways to Avoid Temper Tantrums in Kids

1. Food: Always, always…did I mention ‘always’? have snacks for you kids. Children have stomachs that are proportionally small and their energy output is large so you really need to allow your child to graze. If your child gets hungry with no food in sight, you are creating the possibility of a temper tantrum. Each child is different and some need more grazing while still others can stick to more consistent meals. If you are away from home, always have snacks. Some on the go snacks can include fruit, crackers, healthy cereal, applesauce and milk. Make that habit of leaving the house with an arsenal of snacks.

2. Sleep: Early bedtimes give kids the sleep they need, naps are good too. A tired child equals a cranky child and that is a recipe for temper tantrum disaster.

3. Healthy food, while this is not as pivotal as the first two methods, the tail end of lots of sweets could easily set the stage for some uninvited drama. Stick with healthy food as much as possible.

4. Don’t over schedule your day. Plan out a reasonable amount of activities for your child; each child is different in this regard, so know your child and act accordingly. Children need both activity and down time within a day. Too much activity will over tax your child and may possibly lead to a temper tantrum.

5. Prepare your child for what will happen whenever possible such as before you enter a store, birthday party, friend’s house etc. One of the most difficult examples is if you are going to a toy store to buy a gift for their friend’s Birthday party. Try explaining that they will not be getting a gift that day; this is tough news for anyone. Although this method is effective, kids and toy stores do have a high level of temper tantrum frequency. Fore warned if fore armed.

If after using all of these techniques you still manage to find yourself face to face with a child in the midst of a temper tantrum, try to take lots of deep breaths and repeat to yourself “this too shall pass.”

© 2012 Tracy Lynn Conway


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