Friday, September 25, 2009

Do We Really Want to Tame Temper Tantrums?

Articles abound with magical solutions to avoid temper tantrums. Yes, they are uncomfortable for all involved, but some tantrums are a necessary part of a young child's life.

Temper tantrums arise when children begin to have their own desires and feelings and are able to act upon them. Frustration and anger are very new and powerful emotions; ones that we all have to learn to deal with in our lives.

Imagine walking into the kitchen to get a bowl of ice cream that you are craving. Your husband steps between you and the refrigerator and says, “No, you cannot eat ice cream now.” You reach for the door anyway and he moves your hand away and firmly repeats the no. I don’t know about you, but my blood would begin to boil.

Toddlers face this type of issue throughout the day. They set their sights on something and set out to do it. Mom and Dad assert their own opinions and get in the way of the toddler's pleasure. It's the first time they are feeling these powerful emotions and all hell breaks loose. They are surprised at the depth of their feelings and often so are we.

Sure, it is possible to avoid constant temper tantrums and that is to know your toddler's hot buttons. What sets him off? Being tired and hungry are two of the universal reasons why toddlers have a lower tolerance for someone foiling their plans. Knowing how to read his signals and making sure he is well rested and fueled up throughout the day will keep him emotionally stable, but there are those inevitable times when you will have to say no and he will have to learn to deal with it.

Let him scream, cry, and throw himself on the floor. He will get over it soon enough on his own. A child cannot be reasoned with while in a full-blown emotional outburst, so don't waste your words at this time. His brain actually releases the "flight or fight" chemicals of norepinephrine and adrenaline, making it nearly impossible for him to hear or pay attention to you. Stay somewhere within sight range, although you can turn your back to avoid giving him more attention than he needs.

Probably the most-dreaded of all tantrums is the public tantrum, especially in stores where people, who pretend that they have never seen a child act in such a way, shoot you disapproving looks or tsk-tsks. Ignore them. Be firm in your resolution of the problem by removing your child from the store if you are able. Being in the middle of the checkout line ringing up your order makes it more difficult, but you already know that you cannot stop a tantrum with reasoning or getting angry yourself, so finish your task and then then leave the store.

What your child learns from these episodes is that the result is always the same -- we leave the store. Mom does not give me what I want just because I scream and fuss. After that first public episode, you can institute the pre-shopping pep talk about where you are going, what you are going to do, and what you expect -- no fussing, crying, screaming, tantrums, or whatever terminology your child understands. With little M, now 16-months-old, I often include a visual with my pep talk that includes waving my hands in the air and pretending to scream, so he gets the idea. Luckily for me he has a good sense of humor and seems to enjoy my little pantomimes. His outbursts are much less severe and shorter in duration than they were two months ago. He's definitely learning by experience, which is the goal.

Do not give in to a tantrum, as this will increase tantrums over time rather than decrease them. If you feel you've made this mistake in the past, it is never too late to start fresh and to be consistent going forward. Once he has calmed himself down, you can acknowledge this by saying something along the lines of, “I'm glad you are feeling better. Are we ready to play (or whatever the case may be) now?”

Tantrums can be scary for toddlers and it helps them to know that everything goes back to normal after the storm has passed. Getting upset yourself will only increase your child's level of panic or anxiety. If you feel you must say something, you can say (above the roar), “when you are ready/feeling better/done being upset, we can play/go to grandma's/fill in the blank."

Trying to avoid temper tantrums by always giving a child what he wants will only delay the inevitable. At one point he will erupt in anger and frustration. Would you rather him learn to deal with strong emotions at two years old or see him grapple with this issue when he is 10 or 16? Let him learn that it is okay to have powerful feelings and that life goes on once he has experienced dealing with disappointment and frustration.

Nanny's Note: I chose this photo because it looks so much like Little M (at about 13 months old) that it is hard to believe it is not him! I may be biased, but I think he's a cutie!
Photo Credit:
Do We Really Want to Tame Temper Tantrums?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend


  1. So true I have a toddler and I have my fair share of tantrums every day, and I just let him do whatever he has to do, he soon recovers and he is happy again. I prefer the tantrums at two instead of at 15!!

    Following you from MBC

  2. you are so informative i love love love your blog

  3. What a great post. We've all experienced tantrums and I especially love how you associate it with being an adult. I'd definitely be mad if hubby got in the way of my ice cream! Sometimes we have to put ourselves in their shoes and understand why they're throwing the tantrum. It's tough at times because as you said other factors are also involved, but we all know that it will pass.


  4. Thank you so much for the blog award!!! It means so much to me! I really appreciate it.

    And oh my goodness, I really needed this pep talk right now. My son is 13 months old and has started throwing tantrums when he doesn't get something he wants. It's terrible! It is good to know that all children go through this and they have the "fight or flight" thing going on. It helps to know that.

    Thanks again! I love your blog and all your helpful hints!

  5. Thank you so much for the post because I'm reading it right after dealing with my son's temper tantrum. I am so glad that I didn't give in to it. Dealing with it is terrible because on one side you want to make your baby smile and not cry so much but you also know that its important to enforce discipline for their own good. It helps to know that I am on track, though its painful too.

  6. I wish I could have more patience like you! I know you're right though and not giving in to my daughter's tantrums has definitely lessened them also. Funny though, when I read the title of your post, I was like "YES! I DO!"

  7. Wow! This is such a wonderful analysis of the temper tantrums of the little ones!!

    And the tips and suggestions to handle such tantrums are so very practical and rather must do.

    Thanks for sharing such wonderful insights! :)

  8. Thank you ladies for all your positive comments!

    Xenia -- it's definitely easier for me to have patience now when it is not my own child! ;D Those days were not fun as a mom -- I always felt like I was damaging my child's psyche back then!

  9. Thanks for the note! Following from MBC..
    P.S we can't all be sailor mouth moms ranting about our raise some good points in your blog. Well done


  10. Wow, I wish I would have know this when my kids were little!

  11. We just went through this, my 1 1/2 year old who looks like a three year old seemed to think that if she fought hard enough she would get her way. So each time she gave a little more after about a week of this I thought I was going something wrong and then poof it became less severe and is now pretty rare. The whole thing lasted maybe three weeks.
    My mother used to tell me when fighting with my sister to "choose your battles" I find this is true with marriage and children also.

  12. This post is very reassuring! I tend to let tantrums burn out on their own, and my only "rule" is to make sure the child does not get what he or she wants from throwing the tantrum. Sometimes I offer something else, though, like turning on cartoons for a bit as a diversion. Not sure if that's cheating.

  13. He is a cutie. You aren't biased at all! Temper tantrums have a time and a place... as long as things don't get out of hand. :)

    Hopped over from MBC to give you a follow.

  14. Dee, thank you so much for the Lovely Blog Award! It means so much to be recognized, I truly appreciate it.

    I think I'm over the worst of the tantrum phase with my four year old, and you're right...a lot of it involves paying attention to their cues. It's up to us to know when they've had enough.

    My son is just starting to exert himself, and I'm laughing to myself as just last night I sat there and watched him cry it out on the floor for a while after being denied a fruit snack. It's not fun to listen to, but it is so important to let them have their moment and then we can all move on.

  15. I never thought of it that way. I know I say this a lot, but I really do wish I had you around when my daughter was a toddler. You have the BEST advice on dealing with a developing child.

  16. Ohhh Nanny Dee this post is right on time!!! Thanks a million!!