Stopping a Temper Tantrum in its Tracks: What to Do When Kids Lose it

by Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
Stopping a Temper Tantrum in its Tracks: What to Do When Kids Lose it

It’s a familiar scene: You’re standing in line at the grocery store, almost finished checking out. For the fourth time in a row, your child asks for a piece of candy strategically placed at kids’ eye-level in the checkout line. You’ve repeatedly said no, when suddenly, the tantrum starts. His legs and arms flail, and then he lets go with an ear-piercing scream and begins hitting the floor. Meanwhile, between muffled apologies and frantic bagging, you attempt to get as far away from the store as possible.

Why do children have such loud and embarrassing temper tantrums? And what can you as a parent do to help make them stop?

“One of the biggest mistakes parents make is to try to help their child ‘work through’ their tantrum. Behaviors associated with tantrums should not be acceptable to you or your family.”

One important fact to recognize is that we all have temper tantrums occasionally. Think back to the last time you felt frustrated trying to get your printer to work. You may have thrown something, yelled out loud, or even sworn at it. This is basically an adult tantrum. The screaming, crying, and hitting that your young child shows is their version of a tantrum. Kids are no different than us; they get frustrated and angry too.

The first thing to keep in mind is that your child’s temper tantrums are not directed personally at you. Temper tantrums usually occur between one and three years of age, a time in your child’s development when they see themselves as the center of the universe, but older kids have temper tantrums too. Between the ages of four and seven, it’s not uncommon for children to yell, throw things, or just plain fall apart when they don’t get what they want. In both cases, your child’s tantrums are all about the perceived lack of control of their surroundings, so try not to personalize them. While this may be difficult to do, remember, your child lacks the daily self-control that we adults take for granted. Temper tantrums are the only way your child knows how to express their frustration with the world around them.

Related: Learn how to manage your child's temper tantrums.

One of the best things to do is curtail those tantrums before they ever begin. This may not always be possible, but below are some strategies that can help you nip tantrums in the bud:

  • Give your young child some control over his life. Many times kids act up simply because they want a little more independence from you. From the time they wake up, begin giving them choices for little decisions such as whether they want toast or cereal for breakfast, or allowing them to choose which shoes to wear outside for the day. One thing to avoid, however, is giving your child an open-ended option to do something such as, “Do you want to brush your teeth?” because the answer will almost always be a resounding “NO!” Instead, consider offering your child two options, such as, “Would you like to brush your teeth now or after you put your socks on?”
  • Think of ways to distract your child. Young children have a very short attention span. The average two year old will change the focus of their attention approximately every minute, so you can use this to your advantage if you feel a tantrum brewing. If you are at home, redirect your child to a new task or toy and calmly talk about something new. Before going out, bring a bag of distractions in case your child begins to squirm or reach for items you are not going to buy. When you feel a tantrum coming on, take something out of the “fun bag” and offer it to your child. Examples can be a colorful notepad and a bag of bright markers, a small sack of their favorite action figures, an interactive picture book, a small musical recorder or radio, or, when all else fails, a small snack. Remember to rotate these items regularly so that your child does not tire of them. By using a steady, cheerful voice, you can distract your child from the object of their desire.
  • Keep it quick. Understand that your child is not going to do well if you drag her on twelve errands in a row. Kids get tired and bored easily, and no amount of distractions will ward off a tantrum if they are tired, hungry or need a change of scenery. Be aware of the signs that your young child is heading towards a melt down, such as whining, crying, or complaining. These behaviors are the red flags you will need to learn to recognize. When they occur, respect that your child may be unable to continue as planned and curtail your plans for the day. Consider hiring a babysitter or trading off play dates with another parent so you can get through your weekly errands quickly.
  • The attention factor. Lastly, remember that kids often have temper tantrums because they are not getting enough attention. Children are smart and know that even negative attention, including a parent scolding them, is better than no attention at all. Work hard at recognizing the times when your young child is doing something well and comment on it. If you can, set aside some special time each day for an activity--even if it is a short one--whether it be doing a puzzle together, story time or taking a short walk with your child. This rewards your child for their positive behavior and makes them strive for better behavior in the future.

Related: Give your child consequences that really work.

What to Do When a Tantrum is in Full-Swing

Despite all of your attempts to avoid a temper tantrum, know that they will occur anyhow. What do you do when your child is in the middle of a tantrum and you’re stuck feeling helpless? Below are some tips to help:

  • Do not give attention to the tantrum. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is to try to help their child “work through” their tantrum. Behaviors associated with tantrums should not be acceptable to you or your family. As adults, we would not sit back and accept a person screaming, swearing, or throwing things at us, so we should not accept this from our children either. Children need to learn early on that when this behavior starts, they will be isolated from the rest of the family until they find more appropriate ways to act. When your child is done with their tantrum they may feel embarrassed or sad. This is a good time to talk about why their behavior was wrong and also ways to do better in the future. A lot of love, patience, and hugs can go a long way at this point.
  • Take control of the situation. When a child is having a tantrum, they are signaling to you that they are out of control and helpless to rectify the situation. Although you may also feel helpless, this is the time to take control of the situation. Your child needs to see that you are confident and able to handle things. If you are at home, and the tantrum will not stop, place your child somewhere to ensure his safety until he can calm down. Pick the same place and put your child there each and every time they cannot calm down. If you are in public, calmly tell your child you are leaving, even if that means your shopping doesn’t get finished or you have to leave a play date. Children need to know that their parent is handling the situation for them when they are unable to do so themselves.
  • Teach your child the importance of the word “No.” Don’t waffle when your child acts up as a way to avoid a confrontation or to stop a tantrum. Your child is brilliant at knowing how to get what they want from you. If you hesitate and give in even once when a tantrum starts, they have learned that tantrums will get them whatever they need in the future. If your child is in full tantrum mode, tell them, “You can’t always get everything you want.” Follow up by removing them from the situation or isolating them temporarily until they calm down. Be firm and consistent and your child will learn that having a tantrum will not get their needs met.

Temper tantrums are a part of all of our lives, whether we are children or adults. Your job as a parent is to help your child recognize that the behaviors associated with a tantrum are not acceptable ways to act either at home or in public. A loving parent also helps their child through this phase by setting firm boundaries, creating consistent rules, and modeling for their child appropriate ways to act, both at home and in public. You may not be able to eliminate all temper tantrums from your lives, but you can create an environment that allows both you and your child to get through them together.


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Dr. Joan Simeo Munson earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver. She has worked with incarcerated individuals, families, adolescents, and college students in a variety of settings, including county and city jails, community mental health centers, university counseling centers, and hospitals. She also has a background in individual, group, and couples counseling. Dr. Munson lives in Colorado with her husband and three energetic children. She currently has a private practice in Boulder where she sees adults, couples and adolescents.

READER'S COMMENTS

This is a great article with alot of helpful information and techniques for handling the tantrum.

Comment By : Thankful mom

Yes, this article is extremely insightful; I like the "how-to" on handling these out of control behaviors.

Comment By : Grateful Aunt

My first encounter with a tantrum was when I was 13 and babysitting a 4 year old. As soon as her parents had walked out the door, she threw herself on the floor and started screaming and pounding her fists on the floor. Not knowing what else to do, I went down to the floor as well, and started screaming and pounding my fists too. She stopped and looked up at me and I said, "I don't feel like playing this anymore. Do you want to play something else?

Comment By : Now I'm a Stepmom

While I can implement the recommendations of this behavior, I find it impossible to get my ex-wife to do the same. It is simply beyond her ability to say "no." Rather, she will 100% of the time negotiate a way to give in to the demands of my children. So my dilemma is to get my ex-wife to be consistent with my behavior in these situations. Any advice?

Comment By : This is harder than I thought

Amen - Amen - Amen As an executive, I see this as often in adults as I do my. Tantrums come in all shapes, sizes and ages. The best help you can be is to remain calm, assess the situation, and provide the control they lack at that time. Always be positive but definately be firm.

Comment By : Memphis Executive

I wish I had this article yesterday, but I will be prepared tommorrow. Thank you Dr. Munson. I would love to see more articles by you.

Comment By : Brooke W

I have 3 children and they are all very different. My youngest is 3 and she has the worst temper tantrums. She's soft spoken until she has a tantrum. Sometimes it's all I can do to ignore her tantrum because she is so inconsolable. Sometimes I give in just to stop her from crying but, after reading this article will start implementing some of these tips and have confidence that it will work.

Comment By : The Jenkins Tribe

Interesting. I am raising three FASD children. They are all over twelve and they still are having temper tantrums just like the one described. Distraction is the only thing that works for the same reasons given.

Comment By : FASD mom

As a grandmother who is now babysitting my granddaughter, I wish I had these great suggestions when I was a mother. I will print this and share it with my daughter.

Comment By : Gerry in Hawaii

For: This is harder than I thought From: A divorcing parents educator in Tennessee It is unfortunate that you and your ex-wife are not on the same page with how to handle the tantrums. My guess is that there may be other areas of child rearing in which the two of you do not agree. My advice is to check in your area to see if any mental health professionals offer what is called "co-parenting consulting". In our area, the consultant would meet with the two of you in a sesion to allow you both to express concerns about the children's status physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It's kind of like a check-up to see how the kids are doing since the divorce has occured. It's non-threating. Parents don't feel judged. It truly is about two parents who both love the children having a discussion about how they can BOTH make changes to improve the lives of the children...for today and in the future. The counselor makes recommendations and offers education on issues such as the tantrum issue. Then the information is coming from a neutral third party instead of the person they divorced. If she will not agree to the session, then it may be a case where you have to continue doing what you know is right, trusting that you are making an impact on your children emotionally and modeling healthy parent behavior. You may be the only chance they have to witness good parenting. Although it is hard, and the reward is not present tense, your efforts will pay off long-term with well-adjusted children....and you had something to do with that....THAT is your reward. Do the best you can, with what you have, at the time...that is all you can do. Take care of yourself (literally)!

Comment By : Kelly from Nashville

People think I'm lying, but my children NEVER throw temper tantrums when in public. I have 4 children ranging from 10 to 4 yeras old. If any one of them threw a tantrum the others would know what was going to happen next and be upset with them. Tantrum in public means stopping what we are doing, leaving the shopping cart where it is with whatever is in it, and walking to the car for a long, quiet ride home. Then it's straight into nap for the tantrum child while the rest of the family either leave Daddy to babysit or play a board game and eat something sweet. For some reason, even with foster children I've had in my care, this stops any tantrum from every happening again. :)

Comment By : Mom of 4 in NJ

Great suggestions. I needed that. Thank you. You book will be my "next to read list." Can i order it from you, or would The Tatered Cover be a easier?

Comment By : Jeb

* For Jeb: You can order Dr. Munson's book, "50 Plus One Great Life Lessons to Teach Your Children" from Encouragement Press.

Comment By : Elisabeth Wilkins, Editor

Pouting is another form of controlling a situation. I recently went to lunch with a friend and his 11 year old daughter. First she tried to choose the restaurant. Her dad looked at me. I said, "No thanks." She wanted ribs or nothing. She whined and pouted. Her dad had no (audible) preference so I showed him a half-off coupon from my favorite place. When she saw ribs on the menu she told her dad she would have the ribs. Again he looked at me. I handed him the half-off coupon. Since lunch was on me, my friend ordered something inexpensive. I guess he thought he was doing his daughter a favor since she probably hadn't had ribs for a week or 2. (My assumption.) She gobbled down the full rack and pouted until I dropped them off. She got the ribs but lost out on any future outings with me. If one of my kids had whined or pouted I would've taken them back home and wished them a happy lunch.

Comment By : better dad

Thanks for the information. I will try it on my 6 yr. old.

Comment By : Josh's mom

i think these are good ways to handle t.t. but i have a problem. no means no at my house, and i never give in to t.t. but my child is 4 years old, and she gives very dramatic t.t. almost on a daily basis. this is concerning to me because i think that is a sign of an other problem. either lack of sleep, lack of (what she feels is enough) attention, or emotional instability. what do you do when you have an issue like this? how do you keep yourself from going nuts from the day in and day out t.t. and still discipline the behavior effectively?

Comment By : a. brooke

I disagree with one thing… Kid's know you are giving in if you stop your shopping and leave the store. I’ll explain; with my boys that would be giving them exactly what they want. They don't want to be in any store unless it's in the toy department. This method had worked for me quite well and by the time they were 4 or 5 years old, neither of them has ever thrown a fit in public again. Here's what I “consistently” did when they were throwing a fit: I’d lean over to them and firmly whisper in their ear and tell them "I am handling this by ignoring you and I'm leaving you there on the floor". Then I continue my shopping and ignore them. (“If” it’s in the toy department I just leave that department) I don’t get embarrassed as that signals to them that they got to me, I just continue what I need to do and stay strong. When I start to turn the first corner in the store they come running every time...

Comment By : Craig

I thought the suggestions in the article were great and appreciated the thoughtful reasoning behind them--hope to hear more ideas from Dr. Munson in the future!

Comment By : hopeful mom

* "This is harder than I thought": I empathize with your situation.Being a single parent who is trying to do the right thing and then is thwarted in your efforts by your ex-spouse is never easy. I agree with Kelly from Nashville who wrote that counseling intervention is needed for the two of you by someone who specializes in divorced couples who are co-parenting. If you frame your desire to enter into counseling together as a way for both of you to become better parents who want to do the best you can for your children during a difficult period in your kids' development, she may be more likely to go with you than if she feels blamed or defensive. Saying something like, "I know you love our kids as much as I do. I feel that some help from a third party would be useful to help us get on the same page with issues like discipline and bedtimes." (or whatever else you think you need to work on) Point out that you are doing this for your children and all you want is to make their lives easier. Even if your spouse refuses to go, you should receive some counseling on your own to determine the best course of action to deal with her refusal to present a united parenting front to your children.In the end, remember that you can still set boundaries with your children, even if you ex-wife refuses. This won't be easy, especially since she may be seen as the "good parent" for always giving in. But children are smart. As they grow up they will come to recognize you as the consistent parent, the one who loved them enough to say "no" and stick to it.

Comment By : Joan Munson, Ph.D.

* To a. brooke: First, let me tell you that you are not alone! Being four years old and dramatic go hand in hand for some children who are more spirited than their peers. I always think if a child is having temper tantrums on a daily basis, then it is important to look at some of the topics you brought up. For instance, you may want to ask yourself the following questions: Is she getting enough sleep and is her sleep schedule consistent? Does she get 3 healthy meals a day, plus two snacks? Do I try to limit videos, TV, or other stimulating activities? Am I giving too much attention to her temper tantrums when I should be ignoring them? Before you assume that your daughter has some sort of emotional instability, I would really answer these questions and try to implement a consistent schedule with her to see if that quells some of the storms in your house. There are some good books about early childhood development that you might want to read, as well. I love T. Berry Brazelton's book Touchpoints: Three to Six , which explains emotional and behavioral development during this period of your child's life. I also like Parenting the Strong-Willed Child by Rex Forehand and Nicholas Long. Both are great resources that I think might help with your young child. Recognize that what works on one child,may not work with your child. By this I mean that you are going to have to do some experimenting with various discipline methods to see what works. Just remember that you are in control of the situation! If your child really does not improve, check in with your pediatrician to determine if you need to take the next step to have your child evaluated by a child mental health professional.

Comment By : Joan Munson, Ph.D.

i think these articles are great in one or another way, but what i go through with my 5 year old daughter is much worse. more then anyone could imagine. my 5yr old has adhd. and when she has a fit she starts throwing things and yelling. she constantly hits on her brother and sister. and at times i just feel like i can't handle her anymore, i really need help. do you have any suggestions on what to do?

Comment By : grace gale

* Dear Grace: Dr. Bob Myers has some articles on Empowering Parents that might help you: Please see "ADHD and Young Children: Unlocking the Secrets to Good Behavior." Many parents of young children with ADHD have found the information in his article helpful.

Comment By : Elisabeth Wilkins, Editor

Thank you, Dr. Munson! Your ideas are as important for toddlers as they are for older kids in the midst of "tantrums." Thanks a million for the great ways to stop pouting, whining, etc., which seem to have reappeared as my daughter enters junior high. I look forward to reading more of your insightful advice!

Comment By : Ann from Chicago

* Dear Grace: I suggest you consult your daughter's pediatrician or a mental health professional for advice. Don’t give up hope. With a proper evaluation and a comprehensive treatment plan, you will be able to see things turn around.

Comment By : Dr. Bob

I am a third grade teacher with 6 children who will routinely throw temper tantrums. It's hard enough to stay calm when one of them is going off of the deep end let alone the 6. The triggers are never the same...someone looked at them, I dared to hold them accountable for their work, they didn't earn a sticker for their contract. I have 23 years experience and I am ready to walk out the door and never turn back. There has to be away to deal with all of this but I don't know what that is. I usually have them in a "time out area" with a stress ball but they will often flat out refuse to go sometimes and will refuse to go to the other classroom as they continue screaming. It sometimes gets to the point where it feels impossible to control my own anger. I have tried many of the strategies in the article - sometimes they work sometimes they don't. Now what?????????

Comment By : Frustrated Teacher

* Dear Frustrated Teacher: Many teachers report having these kinds of problems in their classrooms. We are fortunate that some have written in to Empowering Parents with good ideas. Please read the article: School of Hard Knocks: Getting Behavioral Help for Teachers in the Classroom. The program is ideally designed to be a course in teaching parents how to effectively teach problem solving skills to their children in a home environment. It encourages creating an “environment of accountability” in the home and works toward this goal. It focuses on the relationship between parents in authority and children under that authority. The techniques used in the relationship dynamic of parent and child can sometimes transfer to other types of relationships. You may find you can adapt the program to a teaching situation, using some of the limit-setting language in lesson 3, for example. The parenting roles that lead to accountability are very much the same description of a successful teacher’s role. Best of luck to you.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

what is a parent suppossed to do when the child having the temper tantrum is 16? I'm talking screaming, kicking, slamming doors, cursing and demanding to know: "What gives you the right to tell me what to do? You're not my mother!" This behavior has ruined vacations, public outings and quite moments at home.

Comment By : Patches

What do I do when my child cries (tantrums) at age 3 and my partner automatically yells at me that I caused our child to cry and why did I make our child cry? I tell my partner to ignore but my partner yells telling me to stop our child from crying. It's so frustrating because our child cries more when my partner is around because my partner can't stand our child crying and gives in.

Comment By : Frustrated Parent

To Patches - That's interesting because my partner says that since our child is adopted that just wait until our child is older that I'll experience what you're experiencing. Is your child adopted or are you a step-parent?

Comment By : Frustrated Parent

* Dear Frustrated Parent: Parenting is a tough job. It’s not unusual for couples to have conflicts over each other’s parenting techniques. It can take real skills to work through your differences. Sometimes these differences are so ongoing that couples end up trying to work out their own issues by disagreeing over parenting. If you find that a large part of your parenting difficulties involve you as a couple, please take a moment to look at The US Factor, written by psychologist, Dr. Joseph Melnick. This comprehensive program has a DVD devoted to parenting challenges, entitled You, Me and the Kids.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I have to admit it: I was the negociator when it came to my son. I had to grow up myself and accept that I needed to be the adult when it came to temper tantrums(at 7, no less!!!!). Now, what I say is what goes, and it works!! If I do nothing else, being calm and firm, yet loving and accepting of his feelings, it makes all the difference in the world. Especially when I hear everyday how much he wants to take his DS to childCare!!! Boy, can he be manipulative!! But sticking to my guns really works!!

Comment By : grantmama55

I feel like I do all of this with my 6 year old, everything will be calm and good again. Then she will start the tantrum all over again over the same thing. Last night it was over her not getting cotton candy 2 weeks ago. She never lets it go. Any suggestion on how to help her let it go?

Comment By : Casey

* Dear Casey, It may sound strange, but if she insists on "hanging on" to things, she may need better skills to handle her disappointment. During a calm time, sit down with her and let her know what you notice, and be specific. For example, you might say "I notice that when you don't get what you want, you bring up other examples of when you didn't get something. Telling me what else you are upset about isn't going to change my answer, and neither is a temper tantrum." Work together to come up with some things she can do to help herself calm down when she is disappointed or angry, then practice them together. When she starts to get upset, remind her of those new skills. And remember, if you do not give much energy or attention to her behavior, or her bringing up the past, she will learn that it is not going to get her what she wants. A simple, "I'm sorry you feel that way, but it isn't going to change the rules" is all that is needed.

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

I would love to have everyone Else's kids temper tantrums. My son is 3 1/2 yrs old. Just within the past week he has started with the worst tantrums ever! We were at the store, and I let him walk instead of sit in the cart. We were there to get him some socks and I told him if he was good and stayed with me I would get him an ice cream when we were done. He started running off and getting into things,I reminded him about the ice cream but he still kept running off etc. So I finally said no ice cream. He through the biggest fit, I picked him up and he continued screaming at the top of his lungs, and then started pulling out my hair, hitting me and then he bit me! People were staring at me and all the way to the car he continued with this abuse. I got him in the car where he kept this up and started hitting the inside of the car and throwing things. I was in tears! He has been acting this way for 3 days now. He will be fine and then if I tell him no, he throws a fit and says I hate you, and tells me No. If I pick him up to put him in time out he hurts me and then throws things in time out. Help!! My son is out of control and I can't take it any longer. I am also a single mother.

Comment By : lbolton

* Dear lbolton: I think it’s time for you to sit down with your son to go over and implement some consistent rules. When he is calm you can say: “We are going to talk about the rules. Starting today, there is to be no more hitting, biting, kicking, throwing things or screaming at me. If you start this, you will lose (fill in the blank here: DVD time, toys, play date, etc.). You will also have a time out. You are big enough to stop this and I know you can.” Then, follow through each and every single time he starts with you. Do not give him a second chance, try to talk him out of his tantrum, or give him any attention while he is having the tantrum. Secondly, when you are about to go somewhere, review the rules with him—as well as the consequences. Do not keep giving him chances to improve his behavior. If he starts misbehaving, he is removed from the situation immediately. When he is behaving, make comments such as, “I really love how helpful you are right now. You are such a big boy.” Always catch him being good and comment on his behavior. Set up a behavior chart at home for each day of the week. Tell him, “If you can go the whole day without having a tantrum, you get a star right here!” After so many stars, (say a week’s worth) he gets something: extra DVD time, a special outing with you, a trip for ice cream, etc. Positive reinforcement helps a child to want to behave. A few reminders: make sure your son has a regular bedtime each night and is getting plenty of rest. Avoid any electronics or DVD’s that are violent or show others getting hurt. Check in with his daycare provider to see how his behavior is at school and how he gets along with the other kids. Make sure he is eating healthy, avoiding caffeine, and getting plenty of down time at home. Hope this helps! Please check in and let us know how things are going.

Comment By : Dr. Joan Simeo Munson

Hi James, What do you suggest we do when our 7 year old is having a tantrum/meltdown and becomes destructive and violent (kicking, pushing etc.)? It is hard to remove him from the family or to send him for a time out or to a quiet place until he calms down because he doesn't stay. The battle continues and even escalates as he continues to be destructive and to keep after me.

Comment By : Natalie

my three year old is displaying some very strange behaviour! I am in tears most of the day and cannot concentrate at work - I feel that I cant be with her at all. If I pay attention to her, its fine, but if she cant get anything right, or if I do something wrong, or try and do something else (like wash dishes or make supper) she freaks out totally. She doesnt want to let go of whatever shes doing wrong - if she cant get sticky tape off the roll, or presents in a packet, she will scream and cry until she is blue in the face. Half of the time I am busy getting ready to go to school, or to work, or out to Gran'pa, and she doesnt seem to understand that her behaiour is making me cross and us late. I am getting angry every time I see her, and am nervous about being with her. Help! I want my real child back!

Comment By : Teresa Connor

* To Theresa: When my daughter was 3 she began to cling to me in odd ways and at unusual times. She wouldn’t want me out of her sight and would follow me from room to room. Remember that this is the age where children begin to realize that there is a whole wide world out there and there are some scary things in it. In addition, it sounds as if your daughter is very sensitive and easily frustrated. My guess is that this is just a phase (my own daughter is 8 now and finds no problem navigating around the house without me!) but you will have to help her through it. First, when your daughter begins to get frustrated, calmly sit with her, take the object that is frustrating her and say, “I see this is really hard for you right now. I’m going to hold this until you can calm down.” If she calms herself, give her high praise and sit with her and help her with whatever she is trying to accomplish. Say to her (you will repeat this many, many times throughout her development) “There are going to be a lot of things that are hard. We have to find a way to stay calm because our brains stop working when we scream or yell.” Help her with her problem and point out how calm you were able to stay. As for getting other things done, make sure you have a lot of age appropriate items for your daughter. When my kids were little I had a small table and chair set up in the kitchen with many fun things for them to do: coloring books, crayons, puzzles, markers, finger paints, beads, etc. When you have work to do, sit with your daughter for a moment and say, “Mommy is going to cook dinner now and you are going to do something fun. What would you like to pick out today?” Allow her to bring out one fun item at a time and show her what you will be doing. She may come to show you what she is doing. If so, praise her work and how well she is playing on her own. If she starts to fuss, repeat that you have work to do and she is welcome to play on her own. If she throws a fit you can say, “You are welcome to have a fit, but not in the kitchen.” Remove her from where you are and let her have her tantrum elsewhere. When she is done she is welcome to return and finish whatever she was doing. If she works independently, feel free to reward her with a 30 minute video at the height of your work time. When my kids were little they knew that if they were good, 30 minutes of Clifford (or whatever videos they like) was coming while mom whipped out dinner!

Comment By : Dr. Joan Simeo Munson

i have a 3 year old, that constantly runs away from me at the shops or just simply walking down the road,i tell him no and grab his hand all the way home which is where he starts having a tantrum,screaming and crying saying he cant walk or he wants to stay on the street.its really frustratin when people look at us..i cant even take him out for a meal because he gets bored even if i take along some toys or books,he just screams and cries and doesnt eat his dinner climbs on chairs runs around.its realy embarrassing for me being a single parent.i cantt control him and im at my wits end with him.i no its my fault for spoiling him but i love him so much,he saved my life when he was born,but now im finding it very hard to cope dailey..please anyone help!

Comment By : mom of 1

All children will tantrum at some time even older ones, thought we don't call it a TT when they are 10 years old. Choose a Democratic Parenting Style so that you children learn to self regulate and don't need to be controlled in an authoritarian way. Why not teach you child to be an independent, emotionally educated and self regulated person. Joseph : Child Psychotherapist. Behavioural Therapist (ABA) (UK) Mauritius

Comment By : Joseph27.

* To ‘mom of 1’: This sounds incredibly frustrating. It’s a situation that I think most moms can relate to. Many toddlers want more independence than they are ready for, have trouble sitting still and keeping quiet in restaurants, and cry when things don’t go their way. Kids in the preschool age range are still developing the skills they need to accept limits and conduct themselves appropriately in public. Whenever possible, tell your child ahead of time where you will be going and what is expected of him while you’re out, such as holding your hand while walking. Try to point out natural incentives or consequences of your son’s behavior. For example, if your son doesn’t want to hold your hand, say, “It’s not safe. You could get hurt.” At a restaurant you might say, “You need to work on staying in your seat and playing with your toys or we might be told to leave.” A natural incentive might be, “If you keep walking and holding my hand, we’ll have more time to play.” When you are feeling embarrassed, try not to assume that everyone is judging you. Chances are there is someone nearby who is sympathizing with you because they have been there too. I am including a blog that will give you some more information and ideas. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. We know it’s not easy. Take care. Giving Consequences to Young Kids and Toddlers

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Thanks for this advice. I have had the hardest time figuring out what to do when my children throw a fit in a public place. My son recently threw a tantrum while grocery shopping. I gave him a firm "No" to his request for a sugary drink with a toy. I should have left the store with him which would of given him the message that we can't behave this way in public. I have done this in the past but on that day I had a full cart of groceries and did not want to venture out in the 115 degree heat to shop again.

Comment By : azladyt3

I have a daughter who is 3 1/2 and she can throw one hell of a tantrum. Whenever she can't have something she wants..or basically anytime I try to correct her!! She screams and cries and hits me..(which sometimes gets to me)..she is extremely mean to me..calling me stupid..and just demanding me to do everything for her!! She is my first child and I am a younger mother..I had her right before I turned 18. But I'm not sure how I should handle these tantrums? I really need help..because I can't take her hatefulness towards me!!

Comment By : SoftlyUnspoken00

* Dear Softly Unspoken: My first question to you is what your daily routine is like with your daughter. Three-and-a-half years old can be a tough time for a child: they’re starting to become more independent, they are growing rapidly, they are beginning to have a better grasp of language, plus the world around them suddenly seems bigger and scarier. This is all the more reason that kids this age need their lives to be structured and have boundaries placed around them so they feel safe and secure. Having said that, you might want to consider the following: first, what is your daughter’s sleeping and eating schedule like? Does she have regular nap and bed times each day? Tired children are ripe for cranky moods and melting down. Make sure you have a bedtime ritual that involves no television for the last half hour of her evening, bath time, then a story with you or an adult in your house. Is she eating well? Kids this age need 3 meals a day, plus two snacks. Say “no” to soda and junk food as some kids are highly sensitive to preservatives, dyes, and excess sugar. If all of this is in place, make it clear to her what your expectations are. When the two of you are calm, tell her that you are no longer accepting tantrums. Let her know what the consequence will be each time she starts to melt down. In our house, it was time alone to sit in the laundry room until my child could stop the screaming. If she is hitting, calmly tell her, “We don’t hit” then move her to a place where she is safe and can be alone. If she is able to calm herself quickly, praise her by saying, “I just love how you calmed down” and then engage in something fun together (coloring, reading a book, etc.). Start a chart that she can put stars on each time she handles a situation well or stops short of having a tantrum. When she accrues so many stars give her an award (a trip to the library, extra time to stay up at night, etc.) In this way, she is practicing the new behavior—learning how to have more control over her anger and frustration. Remember that day-to-day consistency is what your daughter needs the most at this point in her development. Lastly, is she in pre-school or day care? If so, I suggest talking with her instructor to see how she is interacting with the other kids in her social circle. If she is not in pre-school, consider sending her. Kids this age learn a great deal by navigating their way with friends. If you have family or friends that you trust and you know would be a good influence on your daughter, consider enlisting their help and support. This is a tough age, but clearly you love your daughter enough to reach out with questions. Take the next step and reach out to other moms or family members to take some of the burden off of you during this time.

Comment By : Dr. Joan

I wish I could say my son was 3. It would make more sense to me. My son is 8 and just started doing this again, after a five year break. I can follow all the techniques that were mentioned, but it only gets worse. Enough so that we are in fear of someone calling the police. He yells, threatens and tells us we are hurting him, even while neither of us are touching him. It's a daily routine now, and frankly, I can't tell you how close to the edge I really am. I love my son, but hate what is going on. I've raised another child, she's almost 18. This is such a different ballgame with him. Everyone in the family is afraid to do anything to cross him.

Comment By : tired mom in nc

My doctor referred me to your article. I have a daughter who is almost two and a half. My husband and I are having an extremly hard time controling her. I have read through your suggestions and there are some I do and some I am going to try. My husband has become so irritated that he even bursted out saying he wanted to give her up for adoption. I know he didn't mean it but him and I are both extremly exhausted by her constant misbehaving. We probably have a total of 30 minutes of good time with her everyday where there is not tantrums and the rest of the time is fighting, screaming, biting, head banging, throwing stuff, crying,scratching and pulling out her own hair. I have bursted out crying because I can't go out in public because it is always a screaming toddler the whole time. She refuses to keep her seat belt on and gets out of her car seat. I have given her some choices in regards to shoes and clothing but it is never good enough. She is a little angel for the daycare, they actually asked me if she is quiet at home because she doesn't interact much at school. She wont let me put her hair up, clothe her, brush her teeth, or do anything for that matter but she lets the staff at the daycare do it and gives them no hassel. Please give me any suggestions you may have.

Comment By : shealz05

Temper tantrums basically are the children’s fastest ways of expressing any obstruction with the things happening around them. This is hard to accept, but kids still lack the self-discipline that breeds success. They need self-control when dealing with different situations. The best thing to understand as parents is to control and stop the child’s temper tantrums before they do this to us.

Comment By : Modern Parenting Tips & Styles

My one year old is cosntantly throwing fits. I think it's because there's just so much she's not allowed to touch, or play with. The other day I went to go to the bathroom while my husband was at work and it was the most I've heard her scream in forever. I don't understand why it's beginning now. She used to be so good but now.. she's angry all the time!

Comment By : Jess

I love the article and the advice given is very understandable. Thank you for that. My problem is that my daughter who is four isn't having these full blown out of the world temper tantrums at home or when she is with a relative. She is having them at her daycare. I have gotten three calls to come and get her in the past week before that she never did this just the normal temper tantrums at home when she could stay up late or have a piece of candy. Today was the worst because she started throwing things while screaming at the top of her lungs than started to tear up paper towels with her teeth. The daycare was nice enough to video tape the whole thing and i am seriously worried. The daycare also said if I don't get this under control and she keeps it up she will be kicked out. I'm a single mom and I can't afford for her to be kicked out of daycare. Any and all suggestions/advice is deeply appreciated.

Comment By : Desprite Single Mother

* To ‘Desprite Single Mother’: It can be very frustrating when your child acts up outside of the home, especially when it is a place like daycare which is a necessity for many parents. Since the daycare did videotape this last incident, we would recommend watching just before your daughter starts to have the temper tantrum. What was going on right before she started screaming and throwing things? What do you see? What do you hear? Next, we recommend talking with your daughter about what happened, and letting her know that what she is doing is not OK. Then, we recommend giving your daughter some things she can do differently the next day. For example, if she starts screaming and throwing things because another child took her toy, you can tell her to say, “That’s mine!” rather than a tantrum. You can also practice this with her at home before she goes to daycare the next time. One thing you might want to try is a behavior chart. With this, if she practices her new skills at daycare and goes without having a tantrum, she can earn something extra at home that day, such as a special movie, an extra book that night, or spending some one-on-one time with you. I’m including an article I think you might find helpful: Young Kids Acting Out in School: The Top 3 Issues Parents Worry about Most. Good luck to you and your daughter as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

i have a 3 year old little boy that constantly wines and screams and throws himself on the ground numerous times a day....and it occurs nearly every day...i have tried everything from...sternly raising my voice...timeout...taking priviliges such as toys and t.v. away...even resorted to spanking his bottom...none of the things i am doing seem to work at all....anytime i ask him to eat...he tells me "no" to brush his teeth..."no" and when its time for bed he will flop on the floor and scream at the top of his lungs....nothing i do seems to create any change at all in his crazy behavior....i feel like i have nearly lost control of my 3 yr. old as silly as that sounds...but i am becoming very stressed out due to this and i feel as if i cant take much more

Comment By : Chris

* To Chris: It can be very stressful when you have a young child who is determined not to follow any of your directions. Much of what you are describing is developmentally normal for a 3 year old, as he is discovering the power of the word “no”, and seeing the reaction that it gets from others. This is not to say that you should just let him do whatever he wants. One thing that can be helpful is offering him some choices that are both OK with you. What this looks like might be “Do you want to brush your teeth first, or put on your pajamas?” and not “Are you ready to brush your teeth?” This can help in reducing defiance, as he has some control over what is happening. As mentioned in the article, not paying attention to the tantrum can also help to reduce them. You can leave the room if it’s safe to do so, or pick up a book or magazine so that you are appearing to ignore the tantrum. We also find that doing a behavior chart can be very effective with children this age, where if he completes a task without a tantrum, he receives a small reward. I’m including a link to an article about behavior charts that you might find useful: Child Behavior Charts: How to Use Behavior Charts Effectively. In addition to trying these strategies consistently with your son, we also encourage you to check in with your pediatrician. Your pediatrician might be able to give you some resources or tips for working with young children as well. Good luck to you and your family as you work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

please help!! i feel im having a breakdown, my daugther is 2 1/2 and she was the sweetest child ever, always went to bed really good, at night and for her nap she was eating well also ... then all of a sudden she barely will eat, its a fight to get her to eat supper if she eats at all. she kicks screams throws things, cries,hits me,bites me , i punish her , i can put her in her bed 30 times in a row bt she will still get up and scream . everything is a battle either she wants to go outside and wont come back in,or she wont go to the potty and will pee on the floor( she does not want diapers on her but doesnt want to go to the potty) i have tried everything fyou can imagine but for the last month its been unbearable to the point where i wont go anywhere with her, she hits me and screams at me in public till i feel like im going to break down and give her a good smacking on the butt!! this is ridiculous she is driving us mad . i have a 8 month baby and i cannot take this behavior anymore

Comment By : mommyB

* To “mommyB”: I am sorry to hear you are having a difficult time with your daughter. It can be extremely frustrating when a child who was previously well behaved starts to act out in various situations. Since your daughter is so young, we would recommend talking with her pediatrician about the behaviors that are concerning you. Checking in with your child’s pediatrician can be very beneficial with children of this age. It can help you to understand your child’s needs and determine what techniques are most appropriate for her. Keep in mind, most of the tools and techniques discussed on Empowering Parents are meant for children age 5 and older. There are some techniques, such as walking away, that might not be appropriate for a child this young. For that reason, it’s important to coordinate your approach with your daughter’s pediatrician. We wish you luck. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

please help, my 7 year old girl, is hard work when she dose not get what she wants, like getting to watch tv or getting to seat in the front of the car or wear what she wants, this had only stared from I went back to work a year ago, from she had been born I have been off, what should I do , I need to work, and I work with kids witch she dose not like as she is very close to me, help

Comment By : happy days

* To “happy days”: Thank you for sharing your story with us. It can be difficult to know what to do when a child acts out after being told “no.” I can hear how frustrated you are with this behavior. What’s probably going to be most effective is to disengage in the moment and then follow up with a problem-solving conversation after things have calmed down. For example, when your daughter starts to act out after being told “no,” you would say something to her like “That behavior isn’t going to solve your problem” and then turn around and walk away. If you are out in public, in the car or some other place where walking away isn’t an option, we would suggest you stop talking to her after stating the limit. She may continue acting out or continue trying to get you to respond to her, it’s still important that you try not to interact or re-engage with her. After things have calmed down, you can follow up with a problem-solving conversation and possibly a consequence, depending upon the severity of her acting out. A possible consequence might be loss of a privilege until she can behave appropriately for an hour or two. Here is a link to an article that may be helpful for your situation: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems". I hope this information has been useful. We wish you and your family the best. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

I have a 10 year old boy, who is generally sweet in nature. However, he has these amazing temper tantrums when asked to do some of the most simple things: brush your teeth, get up for your shower, etc. Sometimes, the tantrums are because he wants something, like ice-cream or a toy. He will whine and throw himself down on the floor, kicking and screaming. I know that my reaction at times does not help him cope with his feelings. I have a toddler who is starting to pick up some of these behaviors, too. I find it harder to stay patient and try talking about with him too much. I need advice on how to recognize my triggers and keep myself calm so that I can approach him in a healthy way. I think that instead of helping him cope and grow out of this stage, I make it worse by my words. I will tell him that he has to grow up, take responsibility, etc. I don't think any of this is helping. I find myself in that moment getting frustrated, feeling embarrassed, feeling inadequate as a parent, etc.

Comment By : need support

* To need support: Most kids have tantrums while they are in the toddler stage; when they move beyond that, it’s easy to feel embarrassed and frustrated by them. It’s great that you are focusing on your response, because that is where you will be most effective. You are the only person whose actions you absolutely can control. It might be helpful to problem solve with your son when things are calm, and talk about what he is thinking right before he decides to have a tantrum, and what he can do differently instead. For example, he might practice saying to himself “This is OK-I can do this” rather than have a tantrum when asked to take a shower. You can also let him know that if he starts to tantrum, you are going to walk away from him and not talk to him until he can calm himself down. During that time, you can focus on ways to calm yourself down and not re-engage with him. You may also find it helpful to use an incentive system with him, where he can earn a reward for doing things without a tantrum. For more information about behavior charts, check out this article: Child Behavior Charts: How to Use Behavior Charts Effectively I’m also including another article I think you might find helpful. Take care and we wish you the best as you continue to work through this. Managing the Meltdown

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

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