An abstract image repersenting tantrums including large splashes of bright colour and angular and squiggly lines

How to cope with toddler tantrums

Tips and advice to help you manage toddler tantrums.

A meltdown in the middle aisle, wobblers thrown over sandwiches with crusts and tears about bedtime…toddler tantrums are a normal part of parenting life. 

As babies become toddlers, they find new ways to express their wants and needs.

A toddler tantrum is a form of communication. They might be trying to tell you:

  • they're overwhelmed
  • they can’t manage something
  • they don’t understand what’s happening.

Your toddler might scream, cry, kick, hit or bite.

The first time a tantrum happens, it can be upsetting and stressful. And if it happens in public, it can be embarrassing.

But having a temper tantrum is a normal part of toddler life. It can take many times for a toddler to remember what is expected of them because their brains are developing. At this age, they don’t have much control over their impulses.

How to respond to toddler tantrums

As each child is an individual, the best way to respond will depend on them. First, it’s important to make sure that you respond calmly.

It's normal to feel frustrated. But reacting angrily can make things worse.

Children respond to how we react. They learn their behaviour from us. So try to stay calm. It can be difficult but try to understand what they're feeling.

If you’re feeling at the end of your tether, you could follow these steps:

  • Stop.
  • Breathe.
  • React calmly.

Steps to take when a tantrum happens

When a tantrum happens, these 3 steps might help you both.

1) Let your child know you understand how they feel

You could say: “It looks like you’re feeling really cross/upset/excited/tired.”

2) Let your child know that you’re trying to understand the reason they feel that way

You could say: “It’s been ages since you had anything to eat/a sleep.” Or: “You were really looking forward to playing with that toy.”

3) Try to work out something that will help

There might be a reason for your toddler’s tantrum that you can identify and address, for example, they’re hungry and need a snack or they’re tired and need a nap.

And sometimes, you know the reason for their tantrum but something else, such as a hug or distraction, may help to calm them down.

There might be times when you can’t identify the reason for a tantrum but you can try a few different things to help calm them. You could:

  • Create a distraction using something like a book.
  • Draw their attention to something else happening nearby.
  • If they're angry, tell them you know how they feel.
  • Show you’re listening to them by repeating their words back to them.
  • Stay close by and make sure they’re safe.

Depending on your child’s age, you could also try a ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1’ activity. Ask them to name:

  • five things they can see
  • four things they can touch
  • three things that are red
  • two things you could taste
  • one thing that is noisy.

Parents share the times they've found it hard to cope with toddler tantrums and the things that have worked for them. 

How to encourage positive behaviour

Have clear boundaries

When children know what is and what isn’t acceptable, that can improve their behaviour.

Say what you want your child to do clearly and in a way they'll understand. Repeat it if you need to. Praise them if they do what you ask.

Make sure that other grown-ups, co-parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles support you so your child doesn't get mixed messages.

Use a calm voice

Use a calm voice to talk to your child. Your child is far more likely to listen to you if you’re in control. Shouting will only make you angrier and upset your child.

Don't compare your child to others

Every child is different, and it’s important not to compare your child to others. Some children find it easier to manage their behaviour.

You know your child best and can help them by putting appropriate boundaries in place.

Show affection

Whether it's a hug, a kiss or a wink, affection can help children feel cared for and loved and can build their confidence.

Enjoy being with your child. Spending time together and doing activities like reading and playing will help you form a healthy relationship with your child.

Look after yourself

Being a parent can be draining, especially when you're juggling lots of things. Try to find time every week to unwind or do something you enjoy.

Taking care of your child is much easier if you take care of yourself, too.

Being a calm and relaxed parent is hard if you're stressed, tired or anxious. So make sure to give yourself some quality time, even if it's only a couple of hours.

Download our Positive Parenting guide

We know how challenging it can be to balance all the demands that parents have to cope with. So we've put together some tips to help.

Download the guide (PDF)

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