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Tackling the Toddler Tantrum

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Toddlers are so cute and sweet. They are learning new things every minute. Most of a toddler’s new tricks are endearing, lots of video camera moments. But just as quickly as you get the video camera ready to capture a treasured toddler moment, the dark side of toddlerhood appears as a tantrum.

Temper tantrums are a normal part of childhood development. I like to say that they “age appropriate, inappropriate behaviors.” The peak age for tantrums is between 15 months and 3 years. A tantrum can look like a scene from The Exorcist so be prepared. Tantrums are usually caused by a toddler’s frustration as they seek independence, and are trying to have their physical and emotional needs met, often without a lot of verbal ability (now fast forward to teens!)

Meltdowns and tantrums may occur for the littlest thing, and as a parent you may sometimes not even know what triggered the tantrum. Children often have a tantrum when they are tired or hungry.

If your child has a tantrum and you are somewhere that you can ignore their behavior, calmly tell them that you will listen when they stop screaming and walk away. Once the tantrum has stopped you may try to distract them by offering an alternative to the demand that started the tantrum in the first place. Don’t give into their demands or tantrums, as this will reinforce their behavior. Once the tantrum has ended praise them for regaining control and offer encouragement for handling future outbursts.

Tantrums usually do go away, but we can all think of some adults who never learned how to deal with frustration in an appropriate manner. As a parent, remember that while you are guiding your toddler through the temper tantrums it is teaching them lessons for a lifetime.

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