What can I do if my child has a tantrum?

Tantrums are emotional outbursts that show your toddler needs or wants something. Dealing with these underlying needs can help you calm your child.

Little girl throwing a tantrum
  • Your child will be looking to you to help them deal with their feelings, so try to stay calm. Let them see everything will be OK.
  • If your child becomes aggressive, ensure they’re safe from harm before stepping away. Stay in the room and ready to comfort them when they ask. Turning your body away is enough.
  • You may like to clear things out of the way so they can’t get broken or cause injury.
  • If your child isn’t too distraught, try to distract them with a toy or game.
  • Some toddlers like a gentle hand on their back or to be held, while others won’t want to be touched. Go with what’s right for you and your child.
  • Say and show you understand how they’re feeling. Don’t feel you have to cave-in to demands: be consistent and remain calm.
  • You may need to just sit the tantrum out. If so, stay close at hand for a cuddle when they’re ready.
  • If you’re in public, handle the tantrum as you would at home and ignore judgemental comments. Most parents have been through the same experiences and will understand.

How do you stop tantrums from building up?

Set expectations and incentives for good behaviour. For example, offer a sticker or small treat if they stay next to the trolley while you do the shopping.

Get to know your child’s triggers (such as boredom, hunger or frustration). Try to tackle these before they cause a tantrum – for example, pack toys or snacks.

Agree a signal your child can use to show you they’re feeling overwhelmed. You can then step in and talk them through a calming routine. Practice these at home, too.

Children often get argumentative when they feel they never get their own way. Consider what they’re asking before saying no, and try to compromise when you can.

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