Let’s Talk About Tantrums!

What is a tantrum and what are the best ways to stop/prevent them? It may bring little comfort to know that tantrums are an age-appropriate behavior that most (if not all) parents experience with their young children. An unplanned burst of anger and frustration is considered a tantrum. It is often a result of your child being torn between wanting independence and being scared. This frustration is magnified because they often do not have the words to explain their feelings or wishes. 

Tantrums typically last from a couple minutes to 15 minutes, once or twice a day on average. Contact your healthcare provider if your child’s tantrums often last longer than 15 minutes or happen frequently during the day. There are many causes of tantrums, including: hunger, wanting attention, frustration, tiredness, and avoidance. Here are a few ways to diffuse a tantrum:


  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings
  • Using feeling words help your child (eventually) name their emotions.
  • Use words that really express their emotion (sad, mad, frustrated, annoyed, scared)
  • Identify the cause and then move beyond
  • Be sure to use simple language to identify the cause
  • “You are frustrated because you want mommy’s phone but I said no.”
  • Don’t dwell on this. Identify the cause and then move onto next steps.
  • Be aware that too much talking is overstimulating and will not be effective in the moment of a tantrum (would you be receptive to someone talking to you about your feelings when you are heated?)


  • Distraction
      • A simple change of scenery can often help end a tantrum
      • Another option is to point out something interesting or engage them in a different activity
      • Refrain from getting desperate and offering too many choices or bribing your child with distractions during a tantrum. A simple, quick distraction is best  to prevent your child from escalating


  • Leave child alone, if possible/needed
      • Let them self-soothe alone in a safe space
      • In some cases, this is a way to ignore behavior and show your child their behavior is unacceptable and won’t work


  • Stay calm to show rules and limits are unchanging
    • Remind yourself that children do need to occasionally assert their independence and frustration/anger are natural and legitimate emotions
    • Parents have mirror neurons, which means that they can sense (or mirror) emotions their child is experiencing…no wonder you feel frustrated when your child is frustrated!


Okay, now that we reviewed methods that can help lessen the intensity of a tantrum…what about trying to prevent them from happening in the first place? While you won’t be able to create a tantrum-free space, there are ways to help your child communicate and build emotional skills to lessen the frequency and severity of those tantrums! Some key points to practice with your child are:



  • Allow for independence and choices
      • Giving your child appropriate opportunities to make choices allow for them to be in control, when most of their life is controlled by others
      • Red or blue shirt? Apple or applesauce? Color with crayons or build with blocks?
      • Encourage your child to help with tasks at home to build confidence and independence (putting clothes in  the laundry, washing dishes, feeding a pet, dusting, pushing in chairs after dinner, etc.)


  • Prepare for situations
      • Ensure they have enough sleep and are fed properly before big events or potentially tough situations (parties, shopping, busy days, etc.)
      • Avoid places that can be triggers or plan accordingly (bring snacks if there will be waiting involved, choose quick service restaurants if needed)


  • Use emotional language
      • Don’t just use feelings words when they are upset, label emotions on a regular basis (“I’m nervous to try this!” or “I feel so proud when someone says they like my drawing.”)


  • Be a role model
    • Remember your child (no matter what age), is always watching and learning. It is expected that you will feel emotions that are not always positive. How you handle them shows your child what to do when they are experiencing the same feelings!


Hang in there parents, you are not alone! By understanding your child’s development and practicing some of these methods, you are helping your child become a successful and happy adult later in life. Keep up the good work!


  • Submitted by Guest Blogger:  By Erin Mendoza Sprouts Coordinator