Tantrums help: Understanding and dealing with tantrums

tantrums helpOne of the hardest things I found about having a child under five had to be the tantrums. In fact, I still shudder at the memory of some of the tantrums we experienced. When a child is having a tantrum, it can on occassion feel like total armageddon…and that you would like to go and hide in the closest fall out bunker. But sadly, as parents….we don’t have that choice! So today I have some tantrums help from chartered psychologist, Dr Sarah Kuppen, and author of Little Kids, Big Dilemmas:  Your parenting problems solved by science (Routledge, £14.99) to help us understand why tantrums happen and how best to deal with them.

Why do children have tantrums?

Around the ages of two to three it is very common for children to go through a period of frequent tantrums.  This is due to how the brain is developing over early childhood.   As we get older, we learn how to hold on to our angry feelings.  We do this by suppressing our impulses and learning to think things through.

Keeping our emotions in check, or socially appropriate, involves high order thinking processes. These networks develop much later than those for primary emotions, such as anger or fear. Because of this mismatch, many children lack the skills to manage their intense feelings.

Are tantrums just a normal part of being a child?

Absolutely! The frustration which brings on a tantrum is the result of continually testing the boundaries.  This testing is an essential part of learning which is absolutely perfectly normal.

tantrums help

Now let’s talk tantrums help – how can parents help to avoid tantrums?

I have a number of suggestions that parents can try, which may help to minimise the number of tantrums.

Enhance your calm and be prepared

A tantrum isn’t just about your child’s behaviour, it’s about your state of mind too. The message here is to be organised, plan ahead and leave enough time. Being prepared means you will deal better with the tricky situations that arise. Prevention is the most reliable method to deal with a tantrum.

Avoid unnecessary confrontation

If your child is tired, hungry or ill, leave it. This is not the time for a battle of wills. If you can, just move things along and get things done without a big confrontation; leave the disciplining discussions until the time is right.

Use distraction

Distraction is a parent’s best friend. When things start getting tense and you recognise the onset of a meltdown, pick something, anything, that you think might interest your child and redirect her attention. Depending on where you are and what you’re doing, get your phone out and call someone – maybe granny or a sibling, suggest a snack, story or some time outside. Music can be a handy tool to change the mood

Provide an explanation

If you are parenting a pre-schooler, explain yourself. Four year olds will appreciate an explanation as to why you’re asking for whatever it is. Even if the reasoning is well known, a reminder and a chance for your child to listen to you talking it through again can help. ‘Sam you know we don’t bang our cutlery on the table. Doing this can damage the table as well as the knife. Also, your brother and sisters and I don’t like the noise and it spoils the nice feeling we have when we’re eating together.’

There is a lot of conflicting advice about how to respond to tantrums – what does science say?

Interestingly, one of the findings from the research in this area suggests that if your child’s tantrum is in full throw, you should just leave her to it. Don’t try to appease, make deals, bribes and threats or talk her through it. Just make sure that she is somewhere safe where she can’t hurt herself or anyone else and isn’t going to damage any property. Keep an eye on her, but do feel free to leave the room if it will help your sanity. When researchers looked at the components of tantrums and how long they lasted, they found something of great interest. When parents intervened with a child in full tantrum, it took longer for the tantrum to finish.

It’s so tempting to give in to a tantrum – should we?

Only if you want to see more of them!

What should parents do after a tantrum?

That’s entirely up to the parent and child, but typically it can provide a time to have a cuddle and move on with the day.  It really depends on how your child is feeling and whether she is looking for resolution or still feeling anger and needing of some space.

tantrums help

If you had to give a little tantrums help pep talk to my readers who were in the thick of the tantrum stage it would be:

Tantrums! We all hate them. Particularly the ones where everyone’s watching! Standing by while your two year old puts on a show for everyone isn’t much fun. You can feel helpless and incompetent and just want it to end. Most parents find it comforting to know that all parents face these difficult moments and they won’t last for ever! Tantrums are little (or big) explosions of uncontrolled emotion.

While we don’t enjoy them, they are perfectly normal for young children. Most children under four are not equipped to deal with the strong feelings brought on by daily life. For most children, tantrums are an inevitable part of growing up, but they do grow out of them!

Understanding and dealing with tantrums

Are you reading this in the thick of tantrums looking for some tantrums help? What do you think of the above advice? Do leave a comment and share.

You can read more from Sarah who also blogs at www.littledilemmas.com



  1. Its been along time since my twins had Tanturms, but you have some amazing advice that would help some of my friends going to passyour details on lovely thank you for sharing

  2. Great tips! I just about survived my first child’s tantrums and now we’re back here again with my second child. It’s exhausting, but is all part of their learning journey 🙂

  3. Oh I love this! I survived the tantrum stage and we’re out the other side, until baby no.2 comes along and then it starts all over again. I’m so glad you highlighted how normal it is. I’m sending this to my sister who is going through this right now and really struggling. Especially with public meltdowns. I really feel for her right now. 🙁 It’s definitely not easy.

  4. Ah good old tantrums, I wish I could still have those at the gran old age of 29 but apparently it wouldn’t be socially acceptable. Great info and advice for parents or those looking after children 🙂

  5. I think we’ve been really laid back about tantrums but as they’ve got older, one of our kids has needed some more structured help to get past that stage and is now doing brilliantly.

  6. Like a lot of the other parents here, I’m glad to be past the toddler tantrum phase, but a lot of this advice still carries over for older kids. Good tips here 🙂

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