How to deal with tantrums


When your toddler goes into full tantrum mode, there seems to be very little you can do about it. Or is there?

Tantrums can happen anywhere – at home, at the supermarket, in the park or even when you are visiting friends. One moment your little angel is peacefully smiling at you, the next moment his or her face turns red, the eyes scrunch up and they begin to wail and scream like you have just inflicted serious physical injury on them. They may start hitting you with fists, thrashing about as if having a fit.

Sound familiar?

Just your average tantrum, I’m afraid. The trump card played by toddlers between the ages of 1-3 all over the world, since the beginning of time. And while the tantrums of younger children (of around 1 and 2 years old) are often born out of frustration and a lack of understanding about why things can’t go their way, older toddlers’ tantrums can be more manipulative. Children learn quickly that “turning on the tap” is one way of getting what they want. This is evident by how quickly they stop crying once mission is accomplished (they got the sweet/the TV has been turned on etc.)

Child behavior expert Dr Christopher Green has important tips for parents:

1. Diversion

This is one of the most powerful parenting tricks to learn. When your little one is in the full throes of yelling about something, try to turn his or her attention to something else. “Do you want to go visit grandma later?Did I tell you she called? She has cake!” Depending on how far along you are in the tantrum, you may be able to get them to forget about their performance for a little while.

Distraction is very useful in scenarios where you can’t leave, for instance, in a shopping centre but also when you need them to calm down because people are watching you. This is very embarrassing and can lead to you becoming more upset than you might be, had the tantrum happened somewhere else.

2. Ignore them

This is much easier to do at home, of course, or when you are in a secluded space. Ignoring your child when they are in the middle of screaming and crying can be very challenging. The first couple of times, a new mum may think their child is genuinely distraught and will want to rush to give them whatever they desire. Don’t do it. You will teach your child that all they have to do to get their way, is to put up a similar show in future.

Your child has to learn the meaning of the word no, they have to realise that they cannot always have their way and that there are rules in the world. A tantrum is all about getting your attention and trying to convince you to do their will. The best (and perhaps hardest) thing to do is pretend you don’t notice or care. If it becomes too hard to take, leave the room temporarily.

3. Stay calm

It may seem impossible, but the last thing you should be doing when your child is having a tantrum, is to scream and shout back at them. You need to remain in control at all times and this in itself is a challenge. Your child wants your attention and when you are shouting at them, you are giving them a reaction. Your child will see that the tantrum is working and will take it up a notch to close the deal. You have to show them their tactic is not working.

When you stay calm and repeat, “No, it’s time to go home now, we already stayed for five minutes longer,” or “You can’t open someone else’s birthday gifts,” you remind your child that you are in charge and that they have to listen to you.

4. Time out

When a tantrum starts to get out of hand – like when your toddler begins to throw things or physically tries to hurt you – a time out can work well. Pick your toddler up, gently and without yelling, and take them to their room (or any room). Tell them they need to stay there until they have calmed down.

Close the door and wait outside the room. Do not go back inside until the screaming has stopped. Your child may kick the door and vent his or her anger and frustration. Remind them they are not coming out until they calm down.

At this stage of your life, it can be helpful to avoid tantrums as much as possible. Pack healthy snacks to use as a diversion and try to avoid triggers, like going shopping after kindergarten or work, when both of you are tired and stressed. Don’t go on excursions when your child may be tired and is more likely to have a tantrum.

As tantrums will be around for a year or two, it will be helpful to find a way of dealing with them – and avoiding them – if you can!