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Top Tips for Surviving Tantrums

Tantrums are a normal part of development. They happen most between ages 1 and 3 years, but as so many of us know, some kids are huge tantrum throwers, and some are not. Many children have more tantrums prior to and around the time of language development. Before kids are fully verbal, they’re frustrated, and in that sense of frustration or hunger or dissatisfaction, tantrums can be an easy way for kids to try to get what they need.

When You Can’t Ignore Your Child’s Tantrum

Sometimes it’s really hard for us to stop tantrums. There are a couple of times when you can’t ignore your child in a tantrum.
  • If your child is physically at risk of running into the street or in danger, grab him tightly and hold him or make it very clear to him.
  • If your child is hitting or biting, stop it immediately and make sure that you let him know that it’s absolutely not acceptable by moving his body out of a situation or taking away a privilege.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Know this: Tantrums do tend to get better after the age of 3. Although they don’t go away entirely. Your child will do tantrums to get things that she needs normally and naturally between the ages of 1 and 3 years. Talk with your pediatrician if you’re concerned about some of those behaviors. Do your best to remain calm. Use your friends and family around you to help understand how to stand back and wait for tantrums to dissolve on their own so you can come back to your child with great comfort. 

Eight Tips to Surviving a Tantrum

You can’t avoid every tantrum, but here are some ideas to help you survive them more gracefully.
  1. Give your child enough attention and “catch her being good.” Provide specific praise in successful moments. However, don’t feel that if one child tantrums more than another that you aren’t providing enough attention. Personality is infused in behaviors, including tantrums.
  2. During a tantrum, give your child control over little things (offer small, directed choices with options rather than yes/no questions).
  3. Distraction. Move to a new room. Offer a safer toy. However silly, sing a song.
  4. Choose your battles and accommodate when you can. Sometimes you have to give in a little to settle yourself; that’s OK. However, your consistency from day to day is key in reducing the level and frequency of tantrums. So is time. Although most tantrums happen in 1- to 3-year-old children, many children continue to throw tantrums into the school years.
  5. Know your child’s limits. Obviously, some days are harder than others. Sometimes we don’t get to finish the to-do list. 
  6. Do not ignore behaviors like hitting, kicking, biting, or throwing. Have a zero-tolerance policy.
  7. Set your child up for success. If tantrums peak when your child is hungry, have a healthy snack with you when you’re out of the house. If they peak when your child is fatigued, prioritize sleep/nap time even if you miss things. Sometimes it’s far better on all of us.
  8. Give yourself a break when you need it. Take turns with another parent or friend when your frustration escalates.

Additional Information:

Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, FAAP
Last Updated
Mama Doc Medicine: Finding Calm and Confidence in Parenting, Child Health, and Work-Life Balance (Copyright © 2014 Wendy Sue Swanson)

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