Temper tantrums are a normal occurrence in toddlers. One of the biggest challenges for parents is knowing how to deal with screaming, hitting, and falling on the floor child without getting upset. Researchers at Yale University and other leading universities reveal some helpful strategies for parents to know what to do when their child has a temper tantrum.

What is a temper tantrum?

Temper tantrums are common for kids between the age of 2 to 4. The older your child is, the fewer temper tantrums they will have. Studies found that it’s prevalent for toddlers to have a tantrum at least once a day. They can last as long as fifteen minutes. It’s an exhausting experience for you as a parent to watch your child go through this out-of-control episode. But, as a parent, it’s possible to help your child manage the tantrums.

What causes temper tantrums?

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Just about anything can set off a toddler’s temper tantrum, but the most common triggers are tiredness, sickness, or hunger. Frustration also triggers tantrums due to the toddler’s combined desire for their parents’ attention and a desire to be independent. Kids also use their tantrums to manipulate their parents because it’s an effective way to get what they want quickly. Temper tantrums also occur due to your child’s frustration when you don’t let them do dangerous things like touch the stove. Over time, your child will learn how to express their feelings by naming emotions like happy, sad, and mad rather than going into a temper tantrum. Until then, it’s up to you as a parent to learn strategies to handle your child’s tantrums.

Yale reveals a new, effective program for parents to help end temper tantrums for good.

Yale reachers are working on an online tool to help parents with their child’s temper tantrums. The program will be 8 module video series with easy-to-understand strategies for dealing with children’s temper tantrums. You can do it at your own pace, and there’s hope to incorporate a few telehealth visits during the series. This 50-year-old program isn’t up and running yet, but their goal is to have it ready for parents as soon as possible.

What do you do during a temper tantrum?

Sometimes temper tantrums can’t be avoided. The first thing is to remember when your child has a temper tantrum is that it’s a normal thing for toddlers. When your child has a tantrum, try to stay calm, it’s actually a way to teach your child to have self-control. It’s not easy. Take a breath and remember what it was like when you were little. When you remember how you used to be, it can help you relate to your child.

Remember the acronym RIDD.

Studies show that using the acronym R.I.D.D. can help you handle your child’s temper tantrums.

  • Remain calm: Quietly try to redirect your child or distract them. If they’re hurting another child or you, tell them, “No biting” in a firm, but calm voice.
  • Ignore the tantrum. Sometimes this stops the child since they aren’t getting your attention.
  • Distract: You can pick up your child and take them to another room. One person found that singing a song and dancing around stopped her child during their tantrum. This can work short term, but will probably lose its effect over time.
  • Do say yes: This means that if your child has a physical need, you help them such as food, water, or nap. If it’s simply a demand, then it’s best not to give in since this will reinforce to them that tantrums get them what they want.

Time out may be effective for a while, but it will lose effect if you use it a lot. Time outs should be short. A rule of thumb is 1 minute per how old your child is, so a two-year-old should have a two-minute-long time out.

Affirmation and roleplay

Another helpful strategy is to notice when your child is doing something well. Be sure to be specific in how you encourage them. Say something like,

“I like the way you didn’t get upset when I said no more cookies. You’re showing me self-control.”

Instead of assuming your child will learn on their own to control themselves, try to role-play to teach them. Kids love to pretend, so practice the role play when your child is doing well, never while they’re having a tantrum. Make it a fun time for them with you pretending to be the child, and they’re the adult. Act out what it looks like doing it the wrong way and what it looks like. Throughout the day, you can remind them by saying something like,

“Remember how we acted out what to do when you’re angry? You can say,’ Mommy, I’m mad about not getting a cookie.’ instead of falling on the floor. Right?”

Your child may not get it at first, but after practicing the “right way” by doing role play, your child will begin to practice what you acted out over time. It’s a process of your training and their learning.

Preventing a temper tantrum

Prevention is another way to handle temper tantrums. There are ways to offset your child’s angry outbursts.

  • Schedule: Kids do well with routine. If possible, create a schedule for your day for meals, nap time, and playtimes. This builds a sense of security for your child because they know what’s coming next. You can tell them, “Okay, five more minutes of playtime. Then we’ll have lunch.” This helps them adjust to forthcoming changes.
  • Manage their stress: Try to avoid creating a lot of stress for your child if they are prone to tantrums. Be consistent in how you relate to them. If you are unpredictable, it builds stress and frustration in your child.
  • Be a good role model:  Yelling at your child won’t help them learn not to yell when they’re angry. Communicate with them, teach them to use words like angry, frustrated, sad, or mad. Ask them questions to help them work out how they feel at the moment. Say something like,

 “Are you crying because you’re hungry? Please stop crying and sit down. Mommy has your lunch right here. See?”

“Does not being able to go outside make you feel angry? We don’t always get to do what we want. It’s hard, I know. Let’s play puzzles.”

At first, they won’t be able to communicate what’s going on inside their hearts and minds, but you can still use this language so that over time, they’ll begin to communicate their feelings.

Give your child positive attention:

Give your child positive attention by playing with them, reading books, including them in your daily tasks of cooking or cleaning. Try to childproof your house, so you aren’t constantly correcting your child about touching things. Be sure you’re aware of what they’re watching on television or their tablet. Aggressive games and shows can cause aggressiveness in kids.

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How do you know if something’s wrong?

Sometimes temper tantrums go beyond what is normal for a toddler. If your child is constantly aggressive or intentionally hurting themselves or others or can’t calm themselves down after 25 minutes, this could be an indication there’s a deeper issue. It may be helpful to talk to your pediatrician about your child’s behavior.

Sometimes, atypical temper tantrums indicate that a child has a specific condition such as the following:

  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress (PTSD)
  • Autism
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Learning disability
  • Vision problems
  • Hearing problems
  • ADHD

If your child has one of these disorders, getting an early diagnosis helps them and you. Your pediatrician can evaluate your child or recommend a specialist to diagnose your child.

What about bites?

Researchers reveal that children, especially with lesser developed language skills, commonly bite during frustration.

If your child is a biter, try to protect other kids and yourself from getting bit. If your child bites someone,  clean it out with soap and water. If your child bites you or another child and breaks the skin, clean out the wound with soap and water, and then apply an antibiotic cream. Keep an eye out for infection and continue to apply the topical antibiotic cream on the wound.

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Final thoughts on managing temper tantrums, once and for all

Don’t worry. Temper tantrums don’t cause harm to your child’s brain. Even if they hold their breath, it won’t injure them. Of course, temper tantrums can be disruptive to your life, especially if you’re out in public. For sure, it’s embarrassing, but anyone who’s had a child understands what you’re going through. The main thing to do when your child has a temper tantrum is to stay calm. Try to distract your child with another activity or a funny dance.

Sometimes the best practice is to ignore the outburst but never allow your child to hurt themselves or someone else. Kids thrive on a routine, so try to keep a routine at home, scheduling their meals, playtime, and naps. If your child has unusually long or aggressive tantrums, talk with your pediatrician for advice. They can evaluate your child based upon their past experiences or any health issues that could be going on.

You can teach your child to communicate their feelings and create fun times of role play doing the right thing when they’re upset. And don’t forget to give your child positive attention throughout the day by playing with them, reading to them, or including them in your daily routine.

Most of all, remember to hang in there. Your child will grow out of their temper tantrums.