Temper tantrums are a normal part of childhood that can be described as sudden, unplanned, short-lived bursts of anger.  Almost every young child experiences tantrums.  As they get older, children are able to learn how to understand and express their feelings in more appropriate ways.

While temper tantrums cannot be completely prevented, there are some steps that parents can take to avoid some possible meltdowns:

  • Keep mealtimes and bedtimes consistent.  Tantrums are much more likely to occur when your child is hungry or overtired.  Allow time for physically active play every day.  A regular daily routine helps your child feel more secure.
  • Ease into transitions.  Stopping one activity and starting another can cause your child to become upset.  Always give plenty of lead time before making a switch.  “We can play at the park for five more minutes and then it’s time to go home for lunch.”  When making a transition, try to redirect your child’s focus to the next activity.  “Would you rather have carrots or peas with lunch today?”  If he is having an especially hard time with the change in activity, acknowledge his feelings.  “It’s hard to leave when you have had such a fun time.  What will we do first when we come to the park tomorrow?”
  • Look for signs of an oncoming tantrum.  When you see your child becoming frustrated, try to distract her from the problem.  If she is struggling with a toy, hand her a different toy to look at for a moment.  It may only take a hug, a song, or a question to distract her long enough to change her focus and avoid a tantrum.  By being aware of your child’s personality and development level, it becomes easier to watch for possible tantrum triggers.
  • Give your child small opportunities for independence.  Toddlers and preschoolers learn by doing things for themselves.  Limits are needed, not only for your child’s safety, but also to prevent frustration when faced with tasks or decisions that are too difficult.  Offering choices is a great way to give your child a feeling of independence.  Be sure to give two acceptable choices.  “It’s time for bed.  Do you want to brush your teeth or put on your pajamas first?”  This makes it clear what has to happen, but gives your child some control.  If you were only to say, “Do you want to get ready for bed now?” you may not be happy with the answer.
  • Talk about feelings. The root of all tantrums is a child’s inability to express his feelings appropriately.  Read stories and talk about your child’s own experiences with feeling happy, sad or angry.

Temper tantrums are a natural part of growing up.  No matter how well prepared you may be, your child will still have the occasional tantrum.  Remain calm and keep your child safe as he works through the sudden burst of emotion.  Remind yourself that this is a stage that will pass, and focus your efforts on helping your child develop the skills to express his feelings effectively.