Sometime between the age of 18 months and 2 years old, your child will begin to have tantrums. These are quite common and one of the reasons why this stage in life is often dubbed “the Terrible Twos”. At this stage in development, most children are just starting to learn to talk, but their language skills haven’t caught up with their desire to communicate. Their frustration at being unable to communicate may show up as kicking, screaming, crying and all the other behaviours which we associate with a toddler tantrum.

What Triggers a Tantrum?

Tantrums usually happen for 2 reasons. The first occurs because your toddler is uncomfortable and usually happens with younger kids. The second type of tantrum is more common in 3 and 4 year olds and happens when your toddler starts to challenge your authority; it’s really a power struggle in disguise.  

A Difficulty in Expressing Needs
Your toddler could be hungry, thirsty, tired or ill. Usually, they are unable to communicate how they feel effectively and you may not have figured out that the reason why your son is screaming in the movie theatre is because he’s had an exhausting day and his brain has gone into sensory overload. This type of tantrum is resolved once you understand the trigger. When your toddler starts having a meltdown run through a checklist of food, drink, physical discomfort and rest triggers to see if this can solve the issue.

Power Struggles
Your toddler might want a toy which you feel is inappropriate, or may refuse to eat vegetables, sleep on time or even just sit through a boring dinner with relatives. All these triggers could result in a power struggle between you and your toddler. Again, you will need to react to this calmly to help to defuse the situation whilst still maintaining the boundaries you have set for your child.

Ways to Deal with a Tantrum

Depending on the situation, there are a few ways in which you can deal with a toddler tantrum. Here are several which can be helpful.

1. Identify the Reason for the Tantrum
Figure out if your toddler is having a meltdown because they are unable to communicate with you or if they are trying to challenge your authority. If it’s the first situation, then after you have addressed the immediate need, you might want to teach your toddler how to communicate with you in future. Some kids learn to use simple signs to communicate things like “I’m hungry, I need to go to the toilet, I’m hurting” before they learn to speak fully and this can be helpful.

If the tantrum is happening because of a power struggle, you would want to try some of the other tips below such as offering an alternative or a distraction.

2. Give Your Toddler the Space to Calm Down
In the midst of a meltdown, your toddler is not behaving rationally. So trying to talk through the situation might not work as well as it would with an older child. Instead, give them some space to calm down in first. Take them out of the environment, walk around with them and maybe even let them vent their frustration and cry a little more. Don’t engage in screaming and shouting yourself, be calm, and perhaps even ignore their behaviour for a while. Sometimes, moving to a quieter location and having a calm parent by their side will allow your child to move out of the meltdown zone. 

3. Give a Hug
Give your toddler a big, tight, all-encompassing hug. Sometimes just feeling your arms around them will help to calm your toddler down, give them a sense of security and let them know that you love them and care about them. Once your child feels loved and supported, it will be easier to calm down and move on. 

4. Offer an Alternative
This can work with power struggles. If your child doesn’t want to eat vegetables and is starting to shout about it, try offering them a different vegetable, fruit or juice instead. This method can also work if you know which particular battles your toddler likes to pick. So if you know that there will always be a struggle over whether to drink milk or a sweet juice, you might want to avoid it by offering a choice of milk or soybean milk upfront. 

5. Try a Distraction
Children have notoriously short attention spans. The screaming in the aisle over a superman toy could be re-directed by a quick change in conversation to “Hey, we need to buy some apples for dinner, want to help me choose the nicest ones?” This tactic won’t work forever – they’ll probably figure it out in a few years, so enjoy it whilst it lasts.

6. Leave with Your Toddler
When all else fails, you might want to leave the event, party, store, restaurant or playground with your toddler. Bring them out of the environment, go home and allow them to calm down in a safe and familiar environment. Explain to them that in future, if they want to be able to attend events and go out with you that they need to be able to find their “calm space” so that they can interact well with the people around them.