Calm advice for surviving temper tantrums

Parents have been crying out to me for help in managing their toddler’s tantrums. Well, I don’t want anyone pulling their hair out, so let me provide some information on toddlers and tantrums.

Tantrums are an expected behavior for young children. They can happen when children are hungry, bored, over-tired, or over-stimulated in the setting of limited, but developing, language skills. Toddlers can also have a tantrum when they hear the word “no” used too much in too short a time.

So, can we prevent tantrums? Sometimes, perhaps. Certainly not always.

If you see a tantrum revving up, distract your child with a new activity or a different toy to play with. For example, if a child doesn’t want to sleep, try “Let’s pick a book” instead of “Let’s go to bed.”

If you are changing activities too abruptly, offer a warning and share what will be next. The more predictable the daily schedule, the less likely the tantrum.

If a tantrum is already in progress, and occurs at home, stay calm, cool, and collected. Ignore it as much as possible. A great idea is to put your child in their room, surrounded by their toys, to cool down. With no audience to hear the tantrum, there is less incentive to cry, kick, or scream. In time, the tantrum will stop.

If a tantrum occurs in a public place such as a store, you can offer your child a choice. They can calm down or you will leave the store. If they do not calm down, then follow through with the second option and just leave the store.

Rather than scolding your child in a public place, have a calm discussion at bedtime. Bedtime is a great time to chat with your child. You can talk about what they might do differently next time to prevent a tantrum from occurring in public.

Whatever you do, don’t try to reason with a child who’s having a tantrum. If you give in or reward your child for stopping the tantrum, you will simply encourage more of this behavior.

Hopefully, tips like these will temper you, and your child, when it comes to taming those temper tantrums.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, MD, College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9-FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.uvmhealth.org/medcenterfirstwithkids.

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