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Toddler Tantrums: How to Cope

Updated on February 4, 2018
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Peace, harmony, and lifelong learning are Liz's life philosophy. She's outspoken on education and is an activist in local politics.

Coping with toddler tantrums is possible
Coping with toddler tantrums is possible | Source

Why Do Toddlers Have Tantrums?

Any parent has, at some point, experienced the horrific scene of a temper tantrum thrown by an irate toddler. Why do they act this way, and make us want to rip our hair out?

Quite simply, the child is frustrated by something they either cannot have, or cannot make to work, and has not yet developed the vocabulary to express their feelings, so they have an emotional meltdown.

As frustrating and aggravating as the situation is for the child, it is often as much or more so for the parent who must deal with the situation. What do you do to halt the fit? There are probably as many ways to deal with it as there are parents. Some are brilliant, others, not such great ideas. Tying the child to a chair is generally frowned upon these days.

Based upon my own experience, here are my own ways of dealing with the tantrums; different methods work differently with different children (including those in the same family), and the same method will not always work with the same child, so I’ve included a variety.

I'm old-school. I believe in teaching respect and good behavior from a young age, and not allowing the child to run the household and become a spoiled brat who gets whatever they want just by pouting and shouting, like "Veruca Salt" from the Willy Wonka movie. To arrive at this state, she was obviously given whatever she wanted from a very young age.

No One Likes a Child Like This

At Home

If you are in the privacy of your own home when this event occurs, there are several ways to cope.

  1. Attempt to calmly and totally ignore the child; turn a deaf ear. (A good set of earplugs or earbuds with music will help.)
  2. Get down on the floor and imitate the child. This will often prove a sufficient distraction which the child may even find amusing, thus ending the tantrum.
  3. Turn the tables, and set a timer challenge and ask them to keep it up as long as they can. They will soon enough stop on their own, and if they have expended enough energy, may even fall asleep. (Again, the earplugs will be useful.)
  4. Holding their breath. This freaks out some parents, and causes an instant cave-in to the child’s demands. Big mistake. They simply cannot hold their breath long enough to do damage. Even if they manage to do so long enough to pass out (unlikely), there is still no cause for alarm, because breathing is an automatic process, and will resume as soon as conscious control is lost.

To handle this one, there are two options:

a) ignore it completely

b) challenge the child to a contest to see who can hold their breath longer. Of course, you will win, given the larger lung capacity of an adult.

Keep in mind that although two of the methods call for essentially ignoring the child and the behavior, it is necessary to keep a watchful eye. Don’t leave the child unattended, but don’t let them be aware you are slyly watching them. You’ll be on hand to step in and move them to safety should they be in danger of whacking themselves on a piece of furniture. Simply move them away, without a word, and go back to what you were doing, and observation mode.

The Meltdown Begins...


Out Shopping

Tantrums in public offer the additional problem of being embarrassing for the parent, as the child is causing a huge scene; other people are staring, not always with friendly glances. Some may offer snide “advice,” or suggest you, "..leave the brat home until they learn to behave." That is not always an option, and a frustrated, tired child does not have the necessary social coping skills, so they act out.

That said, the very worst thing you can do as a parent is to give in and leave the store. That is probably what the kid wants--to go home, or to the park, or wherever else seems better than being trapped standing in a boring line or following a shopping cart.

If they are still in a stroller, that is the best place for them to stay. They won’t be able to break free and run around the store, possibly injuring themselves on a display, or creating hazards for other shoppers. If you are using the seat in a shopping cart, be sure to use the seat belt strap, so they cannot stand up and fall out. Here, then, are my coping methods for in-public tantrums.

  1. Breath-holding. Again, simply ignore the child. They will soon enough tire of this game and realize it gets them nowhere.
  2. Crying, yelling: first, apologize to other nearby shoppers, and explain that the child is being taught that throwing a fit is not going to work to get their way. People will be much more tolerant when they realize you are a responsible parent exercising discipline instead of caving in and letting the child have whatever they want.
  3. Throwing themselves on the floor, screaming, thrashing. Nothing to do here but physically pick the child up and place them back into the restraint of the stroller or shopping cart seat. As with the scenario above, explain to nearby shoppers that your intent is discipline.
  4. Just crying, loudly. Pick the child up, and hold them as you would an infant. Make soothing noises, and say, "Oh, my poor, poor BABY." Most likely the child will make note of this, and vehemently deny being a "baby." At this point, put them down, as you say, "Oh, I'm sorry; my mistake. You were crying just like a little baby, so I thought you were one."

Public temper tantrums can be embarrassing
Public temper tantrums can be embarrassing | Source

In a Restaurant

Prevention is the best help.

  1. First of all, request a booth, rather than a free-standing table. Seat the child in the booster seat on the inside, ‘trapping’ them between an adult and the wall. This will prevent them from getting down and running around annoying other diners. Yes, they may try to snake their way out and under the table. Presumably, you, as the adult, are physically stronger, and can prevent this.
  2. Perhaps the best prevention of all, though, is to be sure the child is not really hungry. Restaurant wait times for food can seem intolerable to a hungry child, and sometimes, if there is poor service, even maddening for adults. Feed the child at least a light snack before leaving home, and bring along coloring or some other quiet activity to occupy the wait time.
  3. If you are traveling, come prepared with a stash of snacks that can be given to appease the urgency of any hunger pangs. Failing that, ask the server if you can have some crackers. Most restaurants have individually-packaged soda crackers, and will be happy to provide you with this distraction.
  4. If the child is still using a high chair, so much the better--strap them in, and provide small snacks such as “Cheerios”™ to occupy them during the wait.

Under no circumstances should you ever promise a treat or reward of any kind for cessation of the bad behavior.

That only teaches them to continue, and they will then learn to throw a fit just to get a treat.

It is a self-defeating practice.

Best Practices

When they are behaving well is the time to give a treat, take them to a park, or some other activity the child enjoys. This reinforces good behavior instead of bad, and ultimately they will learn other ways to work out their frustrations.

Even though they may not yet have the language capacity to express their feelings, as a parent, you can help them develop this skill, by talking to them, giving them the words, so they can let you know they are frustrated, angry, confused, and so on, just as you do for physical problems, such as earaches, tummy-aches and the like.

I hope you've found this granny's years of experience helpful.

© 2014 Liz Elias


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  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA


  • fpherj48 profile image

    Paula 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

    No...damn those boys anyway. They switched my beer and pretzels to bread and water!!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

    LOL, Effer! You're too funny. I'm so pleased you have re-enjoyed the hub, and that your behavior has improved, as well. Was it the basement banishment that did it? ;-)

  • fpherj48 profile image

    Paula 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

    Second time around. I love this hub. I've been behaving. My tantrums are down to a minimum.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, "ThatMommyBlogger,"

    That's another good idea, and as you say, it may not work on all kids. Given your experience (and a few of my own observations), I suspect, (and I may catch flak for this), that girls are more 'in tune' to communication, and hearing what someone is saying, while boys are less interested in hearing or paying attention to people talking and what they have to say.

  • ThatMommyBlogger profile image

    Missy 2 years ago from The Midwest

    I used to distract my tantrum-throwing toddler by whispering. That doesn't work on my boys, though. It only worked on my daughter. She would stop screaming to hear what I was saying.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, peachpurple,

    Hm, interesting, and worrisome that he would have a worse fit when getting his way. Perhaps he was testing you, and what he really wanted was strict limits to be enforced. Some kids will push that envelope, and feel insecure when they get their own way; like they are lost without the guidance.

    I know, it seems contrary, and I don't understand that mentality, but it is there in many cases.

  • peachpurple profile image

    peachy 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

    i had a hard time dealing with my son with his public tantrums, he would scream regardless of people looking at him and even louder when I give in to him

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ teaches12345--Thanks! Yes, it is sad to see parents stoop to the level of having a tantrum themselves...'great example' ... (not!) .

    @ DDE--Yes, it is difficult to deal with on a rational level. Thanks for your comment.

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    Tantrums from children can be most intolerable. A useful hub on this problematic issue.

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

    I see parents lose it when a child has a tantrum in public. It is such a pity. I love your idea of giving them the words to express themselves. Good discussion on this important part of parenting young children.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, Dolores--

    Oh, you are so right! I saw it happen with my own daughter--she just wanted "peace and harmony," so she'd give in to her boys...while I shook my head--I did not raise her that way. As a result, she had some real problems with them in their teenage years. The eldest is now in the Army, and that seems to have straightened him out to some degree, but his brother is a senior in high school this year, and quite the 'diva.' Takes her car to go see his girlfriend, without asking--just tells her "I'm going," and she does nothing to stop him. It galls me! I have to bite my tongue to keep from telling her, "You wonder why they are like that? Look in the mirror!"

  • Dolores Monet profile image

    Dolores Monet 3 years ago from East Coast, United States

    Great tips. I think that a lot of people actually teach their children to have tantrums in public when they say "no" then give in just to shut the child up. Then they wonder why the behavior continues.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello there, swilliams!

    Thank you very much! I do try to inject humor when possible. Sometimes it is our only defense in an otherwise intolerable situation.

    Yes, kids seem to have some kind of radar for the worst place to act up, and behave accordingly.

    Thanks so much for the vote and tweet! Cheers!

  • swilliams profile image

    Emunah La Paz 3 years ago from Arizona

    You have a great sense of humor! A bratty child is a nightmare to deal with, especially if you have to live with them. I used to vol at the Children's ministry at my church. I love children however they seem to really act up in church, and their parents seem happy to get rid of them for an hour. Love the picture of the kid in the shopping pic, I think I may know that kid. Great restaurant advice! Voted up & Tweeted out!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Ann1Az2,

    Yes, indeed! The concept of the "terrible twos," and people thinking that once the child gets to be 3 or 4 the tantrums magically stop, is sadly mistaken.

    Sounds like you have plenty of experience (and patience) in dealing with this sort of thing. I'm glad you found the article useful, and I thank you for stopping by and sharing your perspective.

  • Ann1Az2 profile image

    Ann1Az2 3 years ago from Orange, Texas

    Very useful, thank you! I volunteer at a local Christian school and help out with 3 and 4 year olds. Sometimes we get them where they throw fits until they find out they get put in time out for them. Eventually, they learn they can't get what they want. Even the four year olds can throw some pretty good fits. Thanks for the suggestions.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Sunshine625,

    Thanks so much. You were lucky. I think only my youngest had tantrums when she was young. The eldest would simply go off to her room and sulk.

    (She was, however a VERY fussy, (probably colicky) baby, and that's a whole different scenario--my ex and I were both worn out from lack of sleep with her screaming night after night for the 1st 4 month of her life...and everything checked out both at the docs and with regard to hunger, diapers, etc...and she'd not want to be held, either, that did not calm her down. In the end, I resorted to tightly swaddling her, going back to bed, putting the pillow over my head, and letting her scream it out until she fell asleep. There was nothing at all that could be done to make her stop. Maybe I was a bad mommy for doing that, but I felt so helpless, and needed my own sleep to be ABLE to deal with her in the daytime. She had an OLD (and by 'old,' I mean, 'should have retired 20 years prior') pediatrician, whose assessment was "she'll outgrow it.)

    But, if they did misbehave in public, (this was before the paranoia-mongers took hold), I'd offer them this bit of threat: "Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about."

    Glad you did not have to deal with this, and grandkids--hey--grandkids are great: you can give them back! LOL

    Thanks much for your observations.

  • Sunshine625 profile image

    Linda Bilyeu 3 years ago from Orlando, FL

    Fabulous hub! I don't remember my daughters having temper tantrums, or maybe I've blocked it out. Anyway, my granddaughters do have tantrums and I lack the patience for the drama, but luckily they are for a short period of time until they are their sweet little selves again :)

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ MsDora--LOL--thank you so much. I had that #4 work on my youngest; and so many, many times, I've wished to step in and use it on others' kids I see screaming for no apparent reason other than a pure fit of pique. Too many parents just let it be, unaware that letting the child have their way, or scream and cry the whole while they are shopping is very disrespectful of other shoppers. Thanks for your insight.

    @ FlourishAnyway--That is a funny story. I guess it was naptime. My youngest never cried when it was naptime--she would just go to sleep. She even went to bed for a nap once in the middle of her own birthday party!

    I'm glad you liked the article--thanks for contributing!

    @ Nellieanna--Thank you, again. I'll definitely take a look at your page! Cheers!

  • Nellieanna profile image

    Nellieanna Hay 3 years ago from TEXAS

    Thank you, Ms Lizzy. I truly did have a rich upbringing, though it was, in ways similar to being an only child, with so many years between my elder siblings and myself. But I treasure it all.

    I'm still getting many "likes" and lots of great comments on my Facebook feature of your hub! It's obviously a subject people really relate to. Perhaps you'd enjoy taking a peek:

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

    My child was unusual in that she didn't throw tantrums at all. We emphasized using your big girl words. The only time she came even close was in a JC Penney's when she we were both trying on fancy hats (she had a leopard print one on) and it was time to go. She crawled under a clothes rack and laid down like she wanted to nap, still admiring her hat. I never stood for acting out but also never spanked. I so wish parents would take a good look at your suggestions here. Good points, Liz!

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

    I so love Number 4 under "Out Shopping." All your suggestions are good. I join you in the belief that respect and good manners should be taught at an early age. Hope young parents heed your advice.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, MizBejabbers,

    LOL yes, you are quite right; "tough love" seems to come under "not the done thing" these days. It is quite frustrating for parents. How can you discipline an unruly child without the law breathing down your neck?

    Thanks so much for your observations.

  • MizBejabbers profile image

    MizBejabbers 3 years ago

    It's a good article, and like you say, every suggestion won't work for every child. My youngest son seemed to have been born angry, and nothing worked to calm the screaming. Then I found that if I threw him outside and locked him out, he would calm down. Separation from family was the only way I could get him to stop his tantrum. You couldn't lock a 3-year-old out today. It wouldn't be safe, and you might be arrested.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, ArunKanti--yes, exactly so, as I said in my opening paragraphs. But in between helping the child to find the words, as I say in my conclusion, there also need to be consequences to let the child know the limits of acceptable behavior.

    Thank your for stopping by.

  • ARUN KANTI profile image


    A child’s tantrum is a symptom of anger and frustration when they cannot explain properly what is wrong. Parents should better try to identify the cause of the problem and help the child handle such situation himself/herself offering different strategies for the purpose. Thank you for a good hub

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Ah, Nellieanna! What a rich upbringing you actually had! I was an only child, raised in a very sheltered manner, in spite of being born and raised in San Francisco, and spending my teen years in the 1960's. I was an adult with kids of my own before I knew anything about the hippies and the 'free love' movement that had happened right in my own hometown!

  • Nellieanna profile image

    Nellieanna Hay 3 years ago from TEXAS

    Yes, physical discipline was certainly tolerated back then, though I escaped it, for the most part. Having 3 much older siblings, I think Dad had tired of administering it and Mother was never even in favor of what she called "scolding", much less spanking. We lived in a border town and made frequent trips across the border to shop, especially during the war when sugar and leather goods which were rationed could be bought over there. Mother had a method to keep me in tow on these excursions and not wandering off or handling the merchandise. She simply reminded me that the police over there would lock bad kids up and throw away the key. Admittedly, the psychology was not the greatest but it was effective and didn't warp me too much. In any case, she didn't credit kids with having what she called "nerves" - or psyches. haha

    My actual ordinary punishments were such things as having to go to bed with no dessert or literally having to undo any damage I may have done. Occasionally my big brother would smuggle me in some dessert, though. But at the same time, I had those 3 extra 'parents' to keep me in line most of the time. haha

    I've had favorable comments to your hub on FB, by the way!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    LOL, Nell! I agree--there is nothing wrong with a well-placed whack now and then. The trouble is, the paranoia mongers of this era don't recognize any difference between a disciplinary smack and an outright beating, and they are teaching kids to scream "abuse!" if they get hit at all.

    I whacked my kids a few times--the offending body part got slapped--0pen-handed, never a fist....if they sassed, they got a slap across the cheek; if they were standing on my paper (yes, I liked to read the paper on the floor!), they got a slap across the legs. A. Single. Slap.

    You are right--all animals cuff their misbehaving kids, and we should be no different; people forget that people ARE also animals....and, from what I see these days with global conflicts, we are not so 'civilized' as we like to think.

    Thanks much for the comment!

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

    You forgot the most important thing lizzy, give them a sharp slap on the legs and say, 'wait till I get you home'! lol! that's what my mum did and it always works! too soft these days, all animals give their 'kids' a cuff round the ear, why are we so different? Lol! loved paula's comment too!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Nellieanna,

    Thank you so much for your high praise and endorsement of my methods. I know I grew up in the era in which spankings were still considered acceptable, nay, mandatory, means of discipline. I got my share, but still, not all that many. I spanked my own kids once or twice, but usually just a single swat with my hand...not a 4 or 5- strike 'spanking' such as I received on the other end of a purpose-made swatter!

    Nowadays, with children being trained to cry "abuse" when they receive discipline, it's no wonder so many parents run scared and fail to correct bad behavior.

    I'd be honored for you to feature my hub on your Facebook page. Thank you so much!

  • Nellieanna profile image

    Nellieanna Hay 3 years ago from TEXAS

    Oh, pherj48 - Paula! Your hilarious account of not being 'a good mommy' would seem to describe many a young parent's reaction to the constant trials of parenting these days, if accounts I've heard are any indication!

  • Nellieanna profile image

    Nellieanna Hay 3 years ago from TEXAS

    Excellent hub, Ms Izzy! I'm aware of young parents I know whose patience is worn to a nub by offspring who feel a sense of 'entitlement', as I've heard it called. Like you, I'm old-school and almost have trouble relating to that degree of demand. For sure, it didn't happen in my natal home, with very old-school parents who simply emanated the selves who were simply to be respected, almost without effort. I can't remember or imagine any confrontations, nor any harsh means of keeping it intact.

    Nevertheless, it is a real issue for many or most parents now. Your assessment of why it happens - especially in toddlers who are not articulate enough to explain what is frustrating them, makes great sense, as do your methods for dealing with the unacceptable way of expressing themselves in anger and bad behavior.

    So, with your permission, I'd like to feature your hub on my Facebook timeline.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    ROFLMAO, fpherj48!!! You are hilarious! I'll just bet you're glad to have all that behind you.

    I"m glad you enjoyed this article. Thanks much for reading and the votes and tweet!

  • fpherj48 profile image

    Paula 3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

    Oh DZY! Tantrums were an everyday occurrence in my house. I still remember, every time I would have one, my 4 boys would each take a hand or a foot...and carry me to the basement.

    They'd put me in the far corner and leave me in the dark with nothing but a beer and a pretzel. Big brother #1 was the spokesperson...and he would tell me I could not come upstairs until I decided to be a "good Mommy," and settle down. And then he would warn me that if I acted up any more, they would have to tell their Dad.

    I managed to behave long enough to come up for dinner, but then had to go straight to bed, without my panda bear, "Bruno".....& they knew this would make me cry. I glad that part of my life is over!..........Up++++tweeted.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Susan,

    Yes, thank you very much. I presume they did not get dessert, either, for their troubles? Well done.

    Glad you liked the article; I hope it offers help and hope to new parents. ;-)

    (Oh-gosh--I need to edit--I forgot one tip... ) ;)

  • Just Ask Susan profile image

    Susan Zutautas 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    I'm with you on this entire article. Well said!

    I remember when the twins were about 3 and we were at a local Pizza Hut. They started acting up arguing over dessert. Hubby picked them both up and out to the truck they went where they rec'd a very long lecture. They never acted up again after that.