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Resolving Temper Tantrums With Fussy Toddlers

Updated on June 23, 2013

Why Parents Hate Tantrums

1. They embarrass us.

2. Their timing is always inconvenient.

3. They conjure up unwanted emotions in us- anger, sadness, hopelessness.

4. Sometimes uncontrollable and unpredictable.

5. They get worse before they get better.

6. Public tantrums are a display of our parenting out there for everyone to judge.

7. One thing doesn't work for every kind of tantrum.

8. Communication and reasoning break-down.


10. It's ugly- well, it is!

What CAN Parents Do?

Temper tantrums are the one stage that every parent has experienced with their child- nobody's child has skipped this stage no matter how perfect someone may say their kid is. When the tantrums occur in public, everyone observes in shock as if they're passing a bad accident on the freeway. They stop and stare, sometimes judge. Sometimes you get people who are happy to give advice, but I also liken that to a bad accident- advice on how to drive better isn't going to help the people in the car wreck at the moment.

Focus on the child and the tantrum and tune out everyone else, even your own logical thoughts- tantrums are not a time for adult logic. Keep your child's perspective in mind, but of course handle it in an adult manner. This isn't easy, but it has to be done to make the tantrum/situation better.

Some children are a little more high maintenance than others- you know who you are if you have one of these challenging children. I raised my hand on that one. These toddlers are smart and especially sensitive to their environment. An itchy tag on clothing can set them off, but I've noticed they are more apt to throw tantrums when they are hungry or tired. There are special rules for these kids.

1. A Need to be Understood: take the time to let them know you hear them, even if it will be a disagreement. Try to be fair and explain simply even if they are hollering. They are fair and just minded. You can't leave them hanging by taking away a toy. You must explain "mommy is taking this toy because ____. You will get it back when ____".

All this explaining is worth it even if it seems your child isn't listening it helps with transitions. Transitioning from one activity to another is especially hard for high maintenance toddlers. Simple explanations can be used as transitional phrases.

2. Routine and Need to Know what to Expect:Tell your toddler, in simple language, "first we go to store, then lunch". "First and then" sentences are great to give your toddler some control over her world.

3. Help Feeling Peaceful: If you weren't especially intuitive before having a high maintenance child, you will become intuitive or crash and burn. When your toddler starts a tantrum, check how you feel first, then calm yourself down, then speak clearly and expectantly with what you want. They're less likely to be able to communicate at this time so keep your words and request simple- maybe one sentence.

It is really important to keep others who are being negative away from your child until the tantrum is done. During a tantrum one day, my father stood by and watched and kept nagging in the background "I'd spank her" repeatedly. Did this help either my child or me? No. My daughter got louder. I asked him to wait in the car- like the bad child he was acting like. My daughter was fine after he left and I explained to her she'd get a snack soon.

Get a feel for the environment and people around you- if you've ever seen "Bambi II", Bambi's father kept a watch over the whole herd and the forest- he told Bambi to "feel the forest around him". It's a learned gift and worth practicing and mastering.

These kids are sensitive so don't get in their face- you might end up slapped by them and that would be your fault. Don't yell.

4. Basics First: Are they hungry? Did you feed them before the grocery shopping? Are they tired? Arrange your schedule so that you don't have to take care of errands when they are tired.

Focusing on the reason for the tantrum is exactly HOW to ease it or end it. Please consider your child's age, perspective, and abilities before assuming they are just being "bad". This means determining the various types of tantrums:

1. Public Tantrum- reasons for public tantrums are oversensitivity and over-stimulation. We wonder why kids have tantrums in a toy store. It must because they are greedy? No! How about I take you in a store with everything you've ever wanted and said you can't have anything ever... not even in the future. Toddlers don't live for the distant future- they want it all now because they live in the now. They don't know their birthday is in two months and they could have some of what they want.

Many parents believe in giving their children choices, but with toys that is almost futile. You may present them with two toys in front of them, but they also see the many other toys all around them on the shelves too- sensory overload!! Malls, grocery stores, etc are way too overstimulating, but I understand you can't stay away form them all the time. Although I once read a book that stated to stay away from these places with your child- take care of your errands without your child. Not bad advice if it was practical.

Sometimes public tantrums are also caused by bad timing on the parents' part. The child may be hungry or tired. In these cases, prevention helps a lot. We parents no better than to go grocery shopping when our children are hungry or tired. if you do take a hungry or tired child, bring a favorite toy in the store with them and make sure they're buckled in so they can't run around or have tantrum squirming room.

What to do: If the public tantrum occurs, the best thing to do is take your child to a quiet corner of the mall or store, especially the bathrooms. Bathrooms are great because you don't have to completely end your trip or leave your purchases- that's so inconvenient! Once you find a quiet spot, relax and let your child see you being calm. Whatever you do, do something because children realize we don't do as much disciplining when we're in public. Taking them aside, away from the tantrum site is most helpful.

Wait for them to calm down and the crying to stop, then use a cheerful or monotone voice to tell them the plan. Tell them "First we get food (groceries), then we go home". Most of the time if they know what's going to happen (the plan), they feel more in control. I use this "first...and then" approach with my daughter very successfully. It's also helpful to include something they will look forward to: First groceries, then, home, and then ---fill in the blank--- (watch cartoons, see grandma, play, go outside, etc.). Keep the unhappy child looking forward to something- it gets them out of the bad moment.

Other Advice: Some people say to punish their behavior in public when you get home, but that is effective for older kids mostly. Toddlers will soon forget their tantrum and wonder why they are in a time-out when they get home. Most toddler tantrums aren't punishable- they are usually for a good reason and even if we don't find that reason, we need to remain calm and weather the storm.

Distraction rarely works in public- usually distraction and too much stimulation is the cause. If they want something and are begging for something in the store, don't give in and in most cases, don't even try compromising. Compromising is a choice, negotiation and reasoning -all things to avoid during a public tantrum.

The exorcist- Ultimate Tantrum!!

At-Home Tantrums- Tantrums that occur at home are mostly because of boredom and seeking attention. Kids, whatever age, will get in trouble when they need attention or they're bored. We love our kids but sometimes we need to take attention away from them to cook dinner, say hi to our spouse, etc. so these tantrums are hard to avoid.

What to do: A way to avoid these tantrums is to give your child short bursts of attention interspersed with your chores and if your toddler is old enough they can help you with laundry, etc. My 2 yr old hands me clothes out of the hamper and then helps me put them in the dryer. This may take more time but so does taking the time to punish them.

The home is a fairly controlled environment so there should be rules, expectations, and consequences. Rules such as no hitting, screaming, throwing toys, and kicking are basic young toddler expectations and punishable when broken.

Time-outs are great because you would hate to be spanked every time you were bored or wanted a little attention. Maybe you would like to be spanked if it gave you attention. Some toddlers actually think this way. Of course we've all heard ANY attention is still attention. Time-outs are true punishment- no attention and only time to think, reflect, and deal with their anger and frustration all by themselves. When adults are angry, nothing gets solved if you engage with the other person- many of us will take our own time-out and hopefully come back and talk later. Spanking only engages you and the child during a bad time for both of you.

Some people have a time limit for time-outs, but personally I think when the child calms down and is able to apologize, etc then the time-out has done the job.

Other advice: Spanking is an option for many parents, but like any punishment, it should be consistent and not just used to vent the parent's anger. The more you use any form of punishment the more it becomes less effective so try to be creative sometimes too. If you usually use time-outs and then save spanking for something truly serious, it will be much more effective.

Warnings are another option, but consider the child's attention span. Use one warning not two or three- most parents can't even keep track of more than one so one is enough.

If all else fails, take your own time-out or even ignore a tantrum if you just can't deal with it.


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    • izettl profile image

      Laura Izett 4 years ago from The Great Northwest

      Lady E,

      I feel so bad with public tantrums- I know my kids by now and how to divert them, but my two are still young so it happens...and more in public than at home. A kind smile form a stranger to let me know they sympathize is nice.

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 4 years ago from London, UK

      Very useful Advice. I actually feel sorry for parents when their kids throw public tantrums and if it's a very young child, I offer to carry them or get their attention to calm them down.


    • izettl profile image

      Laura Izett 7 years ago from The Great Northwest

      Thanks for the comment wannabewestern. Sounds like you have a handful. Every child is different and that's probably the most difficult aspectof parenting- figuring out what works, then adjusting it as they get older. What a job!!! Good luck and I'll be over to read your hub.

    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

      This is so well written and I agree with everything you have said here. I use the type of expectation-setting you describe in your article when we are at the park and it is time to leave. I usually give a 5-minute warning (It's time to go in 5 minutes), a two-minute warning, and then a 1-minute warning ("Time to do your one last favorite thing.) Most of the time this is effective, but tantrums are inevitable with some children. The at-home boredom tantrums are the worst for us right now, because my children's needs are in conflict with my own health needs for my pregnancy. Fortunately Dad is home for a few more weeks before beginning a new job, and this has been a lifesaver. I will be adding a link from my tantrum hub promminently to yours. Great work! :)