Pediatricians reveal the right ways react to a tantrum.
Crying, kicking, punching, biting—they’re not called the “terrible twos” for nothing. Toddler temper tantrums can be maddening for parents and caregivers, especially if they happen multiple times a day, or without seemingly any rhyme or reason.
You can start by taking comfort in the fact that tantrums are basically a developmental milestone. They’re common during the second or third year of life, when toddlers start to feel a sense of individuality and independence combined with when their language skills start to develop. At this time they don’t really understand how to control their emotions, says Preeti Parikh, MD, HealthiNation’s chief medical editor and a pediatrician at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “They could be happy one second and have a complete meltdown the next.”
That said, there are definitely things you can do to minimize tantrums in the first place and nip them in the bud when they do happen.
Constructive Ways to React to Your Child’s Emotions
If you’re at home or in a safe place, just ignore the tantrum. It may be hard to do at first, but you have to let them know that if they kick and scream, they are not going to get their way, says pediatrician Dyan Hes, MD, medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City.
If you’re in public, distract, distract, distract. If your kid throws a tantrum at the grocery store or in line at the bank, try to divert their attention to anything other than what they were tantruming about. Place them in a new environment, or replace the “forbidden” item that they wanted with a different one.
If they’re doing something good, praise them. Who doesn’t love some positive reinforcement? Get in the habit of rewarding your child with attention or praise when they’re being good. “They see that as, ‘Oh wow, I get attention for that?!’” says Dr. Parikh.
The Biggest Tantrum Mistake Parents Make
Don’t try to reason with them—it won’t work. “They’re toddlers, you can’t really rationalize with them,” says Dr. Hes. Also, as challenging as it may be, it’s important to have control over your own emotions as well. “If you start yelling at them, it’s going to escalate it. If you start being loud, it’s going to escalate it,” says Dr. Hes. Just remind yourself that it’s your job to keep your child calm, so you need to remain calm too. Your actions set the example.
“The toddler years can be challenging,” says Dr. Parikh. “Use distractions, use empathy, and know that it’s going to get better.”
Preeti Parikh, MD serves as the Chief Medical Officer of HealthiNation. She is a board-certified pediatrician practicing at Westside Pediatrics, is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and is an American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and has completed post-graduate training at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.Dyan Hes
Dr. Hes is a pediatrician and medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City. She is double board certified in pediatrics and obesity medicine.
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There are a lot of reasons
that toddlers have tantrums.
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One, is they’re trying to
exert their individuality now.
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They are ready to make their own
decisions, they wanna be independent
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Second, they may have language
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So they can't really express why
they're upset, and what's going on.
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Third, their emotions.
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They're just unable, at this time,
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to really understand how
to control their emotions.
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They could be happy one second and
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have a complete meltdown the next.
Some kids have great twos and
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they start having tantrums
when they're three.
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Some kids have one tantrum and
they never tantrum again.
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And some kids tantrum three times a day.
When your toddler's having a tantrum,
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the ways to stop it is, one,
if you're at home and a safe space,
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try to ignore it and walk away.
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If you're in a public space,
try to distract them.
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Divert their attention to get away from
what they're having a tantrum about.
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The biggest mistake parents make when
a toddler is having a tantrum is trying to
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reason with them.
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you can't really rationalize with them.
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Sometimes you can't stop it.
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That's why they're so
difficult to control.
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If you start yelling at them,
it's gonna escalate it.
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If you start being loud,
it's gonna escalate it.
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Kids do much better when things are calm.
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You have to let them know that
the more they kick and scream,
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they are not gonna get their way.
So when they are doing good things,
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like they're actually sitting and
playing, and doing stuff, to praise them.
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And they see that as wow,
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I get attention for that.
Make sure they have a consistent
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routine, that is so
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critical for toddlers, because their
world just seems overwhelming.
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So, the more structure and organization,
in terms consistent schedule, the less
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likely they're likely to have tantrums.
Children tend to
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outgrow their tantrums
around four years old.
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They become more aware of their
actions affecting other people.
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So they understand that if I tantrum,
maybe my mom will be really sad.
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And if I tantrum, maybe my grandmother
might not want visit me again.
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So they understand
the consequences of their actions.
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The toddler years can be challenging,
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there are a lot of tantrums, there is
a lot of developmental change going on.
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And so, what I tell my parents that this
phase will pass, and ways to really help,
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is just really making sure you stay
consistent with routines, use distraction,
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use empathy and
know that it's going to get better.
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Top Tips for Surviving Temper Tantrums. Chicago, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2018. (Accessed on December 29, 2020 at https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/communication-discipline/Pages/Temper-Tantrums.aspx)Disciplining Your Child. Chicago, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2018. (Accessed on December 29, 2020 at https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/communication-discipline/Pages/Disciplining-Your-Child.aspx)