Toddler tantrums unleashed: Your ultimate survival guide

Toddler tantrums unleashed: Your ultimate survival guide
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Children, much like adults, have mood swings, and while some kids may react mildly to a situation, others tend to have a more extreme reaction when their demands aren't being met.

Kids can go from being uncooperative and disobeying authority to showing anger and hostility.

Your child may be the most adored toddler, but only you know how to deal with temper tantrums when he breaks into one.

While short bursts of anger and aggression are typical, regular temper tantrums may predict future antisocial behaviour.

Ignoring your child's temperament may diffuse the situation today, but it will only create more issues as he grows up. It is an equally draining situation for the parent too. 

More importantly, kids with temperament problems pose a threat to themselves and others. This is why you need to know when a temper tantrum should be taken seriously.

What are temper tantrums?

There is a difference between short spurts of anger and a complete outburst.

Typically, your child will throw a tantrum when they are tired, frustrated or during daily routines like bedtime, mealtime or when they're getting dressed. Usually, the routine triggers the tantrum, and they might quickly calm down. 

Tantrums occur in young children due to a variety of factors. They are often triggered by frustration, fatigue, hunger, or the child's inability to effectively communicate their needs or desires.

According to Mayo Clinic, tantrums are a normal part of child development and can serve as a means for children to express their emotions when they are overwhelmed.

Additionally, tantrums can also result from changes in routine, limitations or restrictions imposed by caregivers or a desire for independence.

Understanding the underlying causes of tantrums can help parents and caregivers respond appropriately and support the child's emotional development.

When do tantrums start?

Tantrums typically begin to emerge during the toddler years, usually around the age of one to three.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), tantrums are considered a common behavioural response during this developmental stage.

The AAP notes that tantrums can vary in frequency and intensity among children, but they tend to peak around the age of two and gradually decrease as children develop better communication and emotional regulation skills.

The onset of tantrums is a normal part of a child's development as they begin to assert their independence and encounter frustration when their desires are not met.

It is atypical for children over five years to have a repeated pattern of tantrums that last over 15 minutes. 

However, it's a red flag when your child bursts out without reason. If the tantrums go on for long, exhausting your child, it is a cause for concern.

According to Ray Levy, PhD., a clinical psychologist in the US, children between the ages of one and four years tend to "lose it" when they haven't developed good coping skills. 

What causes toddler tantrums?

Toddlers can be tough to deal with. They're still learning to express themselves and figure out the world around them, which can lead to tantrums.

But what causes toddler tantrums? Here are some of the most common triggers:


Toddlers get frustrated when they can't do something - like open a door or climb up steps - so they throw a fit.


Sometimes, toddlers throw tantrums because they want your attention. They will probably stop acting out when you positively respond to them (by giving them attention).


Toddlers are just starting to learn about emotions, so it's not uncommon for them to get angry over something small - like an empty cookie jar - and then have a full-blown tantrum about it.


If your child is hungry or thirsty, she might act out because she's feeling cranky from low blood sugar levels. Try feeding her healthy snacks before she starts acting up so she doesn't get super grumpy!


It's hard work being a toddler! When your kid has had enough and just needs to sleep, they may get grumpy or throw themselves on the floor in protest of going to bed (or out to eat), even if they were happy and calm just moments before.

Tantrums versus meltdowns

Ever witnessed a meltdown? It's like a tantrum on steroids! A meltdown is an intense and overwhelming reaction that goes beyond a typical tantrum.

Unlike tantrums, which are often triggered by frustration or not getting what they want, meltdowns can be caused by sensory overload, anxiety, or other sensory processing difficulties.

During a meltdown, a child may become completely overwhelmed, losing control of their emotions and exhibiting behaviours such as screaming, crying, hitting, or even self-harming.

It's important to approach meltdowns with empathy and understanding, as they can be distressing for both the child and the caregiver.

When should we worry about toddler tantrums?

Your child's behaviour may be erratic when he's having a temper tantrum, and you need to watch out for these signs:

1. Hostility 

Children tend to be hostile towards their caregivers when having temper tantrums. The hostility extends not just towards people, but household objects, toys, books and more.

You may also find the child throwing punches and kicks at the caregiver out of frustration.

While a one-off incident can be ignored, it is deeply concerning if that's how your child behaves during each of their tantrums. 

2. Self-harm

This is a more serious issue and needs immediate attention as children may injure themselves gravely.

During a temper tantrum, they could bite or scratch themselves.

Some children even bang their heads against the wall or hurt their feet by kicking things.  

3. Frequent outbursts

If your child has over 15 to 20 outbursts every month, that's a lot of time and energy spent comforting your child.

This also means you spend much of your day addressing your child's tantrums. This is a serious red flag. 

4. Long outbursts

An outburst that lasts over 25 to 30 minutes at stretch hints at other issues harming the well-being of your toddler. It would be advisable to pay a visit to a child psychologist. 

5. Can't calm down 

Sometimes a temper tantrum can aggravate to the point where they can't calm themselves down.

This is a big issue in public spaces like malls, grocery stores or family gatherings.

If the child can't be distracted and needs to be removed from the environment, it's something that needs attention at the earliest.

How do we manage toddler tantrums?

Toddler tantrums can be challenging and frustrating for both parents and children alike.

It's important to understand that toddlers are still developing their language and emotional skills and tantrums are a normal part of their learning process.

While they are usually normal in this stage, it doesn't mean that there's nothing you can do to intervene and turn things around.

Here are some practical tips and strategies to effectively manage and navigate those inevitable toddler tantrums:

Remember, it's not personal

Take a deep breath and remind yourself that your child is still learning how to express their feelings appropriately.

Toddlers are not mad at you; they're simply trying to communicate their frustrations in the only way they know-how.

Stay strong, don't give in

Prepare yourself for a potential battle if your toddler has learned that throwing a tantrum can get them what they want.

Whether it's cookies, toys, or any other desire, giving in will only reinforce the behaviour.

Stay firm and consistent, teaching your child that tantrums are not an effective means of getting their way.

Distraction and engagement

When you sense a tantrum brewing, quickly redirect your toddler's attention to something else.

Engage them in a different activity or offer a new toy or game to shift their focus away from the triggering situation. Distraction can often diffuse the tantrum before it escalates.

Consider reasonable compromises

In certain situations, such as a request for a specific toy or snack, an occasional compromise might be appropriate.

However, make sure it's within reason and not reinforcing negative behaviour. Use these moments as teaching opportunities to discuss patience and waiting for the right time.

Allow emotional release

Sometimes, letting your child express their frustration through a tantrum can be necessary.

Allowing them to vent their emotions in a safe environment can help them release tension and learn to manage their feelings more constructively.

Seek professional help if needed

While tantrums are a normal part of development, frequent or severe episodes might require professional intervention.

If you notice a pattern of uncontrollable tantrums, consider consulting with a psychiatrist or psychologist who can provide guidance and support tailored to your child's specific needs.

When do we seek professional help?

Knowing when to seek professional help for toddler tantrums is important for the well-being of both the child and the family. Here are a few signs that indicate it may be time to seek professional assistance:

  • Persistent and severe tantrums that occur frequently and escalate quickly.
  • Self-harming behaviours during tantrums.
  • Difficulty in functioning at home, school or social settings due to tantrum behaviours.
  • Concerns about your child's emotional well-being or mental health.

In conclusion, navigating toddler tantrums can be a challenging journey, but remember, you're not alone!

Tantrums are a normal part of child development, and with patience, understanding, and consistent guidance, you can help your child develop better communication and emotional regulation skills.

Keep in mind that each child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another.

Trust your instincts, seek support when needed, and remember that this phase will pass.

Together, we can tackle tantrums and help our little ones grow into resilient, emotionally intelligent individuals who can navigate life's challenges with grace.

ALSO READ: Nurturing strong minds: Essential mental health skills to teach your children

This article was first published in theAsianparent.

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