Taming Temper Tantrums


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Q. I am having a difficult time with my 2-year-old and temper tantrums. What's the best way to handle these outbursts?

A: Temper tantrums are emotional outbursts of frustration and anger often involving screaming, crying, yelling and kicking. They can last from a few seconds to a couple minutes.

Children have tantrums typically between the ages of 1 and 4 years. At this stage of development, children are becoming more independent. They want to make their own choices. They have mastered walking. They will tell you what they want and don't want. Well-intentioned parents may try to help a child complete a task such as putting on his shoes and be greeted with "No, me do it!"

This can be a stormy stage for children and their parents. In their quest for independence, children want to do the opposite of what you want them to do. For example, you may say, "It's time to put away the toys." Your toddler says, "No!" It's a favorite word for this age group.

Then there are those times when children want to attempt tasks that are too difficult, such as pouring their own cereal, or perform a dangerous feat such as climbing on the kitchen table. They experience frustration when parents try to assist them or interfere for their protection. These conflicts can produce intense emotions. Children are developing their communication skills and have not yet learned to express their feelings verbally. As a result, these intense emotions may erupt in a temper tantrum.

Tips for preventing tantrums:

  • Allow your child to make some decisions on his or her own. For example, give limited choices during a meal – juice or milk, peaches or applesauce.
  • Create opportunities for your child to do things for himself. For example, place his toys where he can reach them, such as in a small basket on the floor.
  • Allow your child to assist you with household tasks. For example, he can help put away unbreakable items such as pots, pans and plastic dishes.
  • Allow time in your schedule for your child to develop his skills independently. For example, schedule time so your child can feed himself or try to put on his clothes. When you are in a hurry, you are tempted to interfere and perform the task for him.
  • Choose activity time carefully. When your child is rested, fed and healthy, she is more receptive to activities like shopping, play dates and family outings.


Tips for managing tantrums when they happen:

  • Remain calm. Controlling your emotions can help you teach and model to your child how to work through her emotions.Talk to your child about what he is going through. For example, say, "You must really want this toy." Showing your child you understand may calm your child and give you the opportunity to help teach him how to work through these intense feelings verbally.
  • Use a soft touch. Some children respond to being lovingly hugged and assured.Introduce appropriate alternatives to your child. For example, if your child wants to climb on the table, lead him to play with a game or read his favorite book.
  • Avoid giving in to a tantrum although it may be tempting to do so to resolve the issue quickly. Giving in will send your child the message that his behavior is acceptable and will prolong this stormy stage.


Kate Murr works for Cone Behavioral Health in Greensboro. Please submit your questions to "Is My Kid OK?" by e-mailing sherri.mcmillen@conehealth.com.
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