Once your baby graduates to the toddler stage, it can seem as though life is changing faster than you can keep up. As your child learns and develops new skills, so will you as a parent. One of the most important things to know is how to deal with toddler tantrums.

As unpleasant as they may be, toddler tantrums are a very normal and expected part of your child’s development. It is important to understand that your child’s outbursts are their way of trying to express themselves. Whether it is to assert their independence or to relay an intense feeling of anger or frustration, your little one lacks the necessary language and communication skills necessary to relay how they are feeling.

Understanding the reason behind your child’s behavior can help you make decisions and choose the right approach and parenting style to help guide your child through their tantrums and in some cases, avoid them altogether. In this article, we will explore toddler tantrums and discuss ways to help both you and your little one succeed during this stage of development.

Understanding Toddler Tantrums

Tantrums are par for the course when parenting a toddler-aged child. Between the ages of 1 and 4 years old, you can expect your little one to display outbursts of emotion that may seem to be exaggerated given the circumstances. These outbursts can be verbal, physical, or a combination of the two.

As your toddler becomes more independent, they are also aware of their dependence on you for attention as well as their needs. This conflict is emotionally complex and your little one not only lacks the communication skills to verbally convey their feelings, but toddlers also lack the self-regulation and coping skills to handle big emotions.

Some of the most common causes of toddler tantrums are:

  • Environmental factors: A number of environmental factors can make it more likely for your toddler to have a tantrum. Being hungry, tired, or overstimulated, can cause your child to have a harder time regulating their emotions and expressing themselves.
  • Emotional factors: Remember your toddler’s brain is still developing. Feelings of anger, disappointment, fear, and embarrassment are new experiences for them. They can be overwhelming and because they do not have the language or coping skills, these feelings often manifest as toddler tantrums.
  • Situational factors: Your child is learning socio-emotional skills every day. A lot of situations will arise that your toddler hasn’t learned how to react to or lacks the necessary coping skills. For example, they may see another child playing with one of their toys, or it may be time to leave the park and they don’t want to. Not knowing how to cope with these events leads to a toddler tantrum.

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Set Your Child Up For Success

One of the best ways to deal with toddler tantrums is to try and avoid them whenever possible. While you can never predict or guarantee your little one won’t end up throwing a tantrum, there are some proactive ways to help set your child up for success and encourage positive behavior.

Be Prepared

While it may seem like there isn’t much you can control these days, you can control some of the environmental factors that may be contributing to your child’s emotional state. For example, if your toddler is more likely to have a tantrum when they are hungry, be sure to always have snacks handy or pay special attention to the consistency of their meal schedule. 

The same is true for naptime and sleep. Overtired children are much more likely to have a hard time regulating their emotions. Planning around their nap and sleep schedules may help you avoid a future emotional outburst. 

Manage Expectations

Managing both your child’s expectations and your own can make a world of difference in preventing unnecessary tantrums. Try giving a few warnings before leaving the park, or a friend’s house to allow your toddler time to process the situation. 

If a certain aisle in the store is a trigger for your little one, talk to them before entering the store and avoid that aisle during the trip. Make sure that the toys and activities you provide for your toddler are age-appropriate and not so advanced that they become frustrated. 

Give Them Safe Options

Your toddler is desperate to start asserting their independence. It can seem like you spend most of your time saying “no” or “don’t do that.” Try adding in as many choices as you can for your toddler to make on their own.

The goal is to stop saying “no” to everything. Give your toddler two options, both of which are safe and appropriate, and let them control parts of their day. For example, let your little one choose which snack they would like to have, offering them yogurt or a piece of fruit. 

You may want to lay out two different outfits for them and allow them to choose what they want to wear that day. Giving your toddler the opportunity to be independent in a safe and controlled environment will help meet their need for autonomy. 

Name and Define Their Feelings

Remember that most of your toddler’s tantrums are a result of their inability and inexperience in expressing big emotions. Teaching your toddler emotional literacy is a practice that can have a big impact on their understanding of their feelings and the way they choose to express them. 

If you notice that your child has a big emotion or is about to become overwhelmed, sit with them and help them work through it. Say things like, “Did you throw your toy because you were angry? I know you feel frustrated because it’s difficult. Let me help you. Asking for help can make you feel less frustrated.”

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How To Deal With A Toddler Tantrum

A toddler tantrum is inevitable no matter how proactive you are. When your child does act out, there are some key ways you can engage with them to help both you and your child cope with the situation and have a successful outcome. 

Following a positive parenting model will help encourage your child’s development in many ways. By treating your toddler with respect and validating their feelings as a human being, you will be setting a firm foundation in independence and emotional literacy.

Some tips for dealing with your child during a tantrum are:

  • Stay Calm: At the very least, pretend like you are. Remember that in order for your toddler to learn to regulate their emotions you must model for them what that looks like. Be sure to get down to your toddler’s level and speak slowly, firmly, and with intention.
  • Determine The Trigger: Think about all the factors that are contributing to your child’s tantrum. Try to imagine what emotions or experiences they might be struggling with. If your child is angry, you will want to approach the situation differently than if they were disappointed or scared. 
  • Validate Their Feelings: It is very important that even though you want the behavior to stop, that your child understands that their feeling is normal, natural, and valid. You might say, “I understand that you’re upset because you can’t have another cookie” or, “It can be hard when we can’t have something we want.”
  • Distract or Remove Them: If possible, try and shift your toddler’s focus to something more engaging, happier, or less upsetting. Children at this age have short attention spans and using distractions or removing them from the event that is triggering their emotions can often stop a tantrum in its tracks. 
  • Wait It Out: When your child is in the throes of a toddler tantrum, there is no reasoning with them. Remember that their brains are still developing and that these moments of emotional outbursts are learning experiences. Stay with your child, but be sure to ignore attention-seeking behavior. Tell your child, “I am right here. When you calm down we can talk about what happened.”
  • Connect With Them: Connecting with and nurturing your relationship with your toddler is the best way to build trust and teach your child how to act and engage in the world. Spend some time at the end of the day discussing what happened before, during, and after the tantrum, explaining the emotions and talking about different ways your child can express those feelings in the future. 

Download the Kinedu App to share your tantrum strategies and experiences in the Family Forums. 

Ask For Help

Raising toddlers can be stressful. Teaching them how to self-regulate their emotions and to ask for help when they need it starts with you following modeling that behavior for them. If you are still learning how to deal with toddler tantrums, feeling overwhelmed or stressed trying to navigate your child’s emotions as well as your own, don’t forget to take care of yourself. 

Whether that means taking a break, or choosing your battles, be sure to show yourself some grace. Remember that all children are different and it may take some trial and error for you to learn what works best with your child. 

For additional help and support with toddler behavior and positive parenting, download the Kinedu App to schedule 1:1 guidance with experts in Early Childhood Development.

The good news is that nothing lasts forever, not even toddler tantrums.