7 Things Never to Do During a Toddler Tantrum

temper tantrumTwo words that strike fear in the hearts of moms everywhere: Toddler tantrum. They always seem to happen in the worst of places at the worst of times. The good news, however, is that you can actually foresee a tantrum coming and try to head it off before it happens. "One of the best things you can do is to think ahead and see if you can figure out what sets your child off," says Tovah Klein, PhD, and author of How Toddlers Thrive. "If you know some aspects that increase the chances of a tantrum, such as missing a nap or being hungry, try to prepare ahead to avoid them."

But if your best efforts fail and your toddler becomes "overwhelmed by her emotions" (that's a nice way of saying she's kicking, screaming, and arching her back), there are things you should avoid doing as they could make the situation even worse.

Here, 7 things never to do during your toddler’s temper tantrum.

  1. Laugh. Temper tantrums can be amusing at times, but think about it: Is it right to laugh in your child's face? "At this point when the toddler is upset, the message of laughing is that his feelings are ridiculous," notes Klein. "The toddler interprets this as they are bad for having such feelings." A sense of humor is crucial in parenthood, but it’s best never to laugh at the expense of your child.
  2. Imitate him. This may be your way of lightening up an otherwise stressful situation, but as with laughing, poking fun at your child and the way he feels "is shaming and demeaning to them," explains Klein. "It also teaches them that it is okay to make fun of other people, especially people who are having a hard time. It's the opposite of what most parents are hoping their child is learning -- which is how to get along with others in kind and caring ways."
  3. Lose your cool. It isn’t always easy, but don’t get pulled into your toddler’s frenzied orbit -- instead be the calm in their emotional storm. By being reassuring and calm, your toddler will be able to gather themselves more quickly and settle down again. "They need us to stay close, listen, and not lecture or yell at them," explains Klein. "It's the adult caregivers who help them move out of the heightened arousal and eventually calm down. They can't do it on their own. When we fly off the handle, it makes them more upset and adds to their feeling scared, ashamed, and bad about themselves." Try to come up with a way to talk yourself down when you feel yourself starting to lose control. Klein suggests saying something to yourself like: "She won't tantrum forever" or "He's just so little."
  4. Take it personally. Contrary to what it seems, your toddler isn't acting out to hurt you. "It's important to take a step back, exhale, and remember that this person screaming and flailing is actually a very little person, still trying to figure out life, and who lacks the ability to control their emotions at these moments," says Klein. "It's not about us. It's about the child who is feeling beyond upset and does not know how to handle it. When parents take it personally, it tends to upset them more and make the situation worse for the child."
  5. Walk away. "[This] can be the most terrifying action to a child," notes Klein. "If you say to a hysterical child that you are leaving them, they will panic. The message is that they are unloved when they are feeling terrible. These are feelings of being abandoned just when they need to know a parent will love them, no matter what." When a child is upset, he is most in need of the parent, as being so upset actually scares the child, who is already in a heightened emotional state and needs to be assured he is not alone. Note: If you're extremely upset, you may need a break, too. Klein suggests turning around, closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and reminding yourself that this is a very little person who will not always be this way. Do what it takes to re-ground yourself and be there for your child.
  6. Resort to bribery. We've all been there. Our child starts going bonkers in a restaurant, so we give them a piece of candy or our iPhone (and we likely feel guilty about it). As long as this isn't the norm, it's okay. "If you are in a tight spot and need to use distraction or bribery, go for it," says Klein. "When used in these tough moments, it can work, but not if it's used all the time. Use it in those crisis moments when you need a way out and you suspect it will work. However, don't use it as your all the time go-to." You don't want to set a precedent with your child that if he acts out, he'll get an ice cream cone.
  7. Try to reason with her. There's no point, as they are incapable of hearing or being rational at that moment. "When emotions take over, thinking abilities are gone," explains Klein. "Don't over-talk them or try to convince them of anything. Instead, use simple language and few words (I am here; you are upset). Trying to cajole, bribe, beg them out of it usually makes it worse and upsets them more."

More from The StirHow to Diffuse a Tantrum in 10 Seconds Flat

How many of these things have you done during your toddler's tantrums? Did they backfire?


Image © B. Boissonnet/BSIP/Corbis



To add a comment, please log in with

Use Your CafeMom Profile

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Comment As a Guest

Guest comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.

Jozemom Jozemom

The only one I don't agree with is walking away. I've worked with children (including those with severe mental disabilities) and what I was taught in my training was to make sure the child was in a safe place and then just stand back and let them finish. I would always say "I can see you're upset, you stay here and let it out and I'll come back when you're calm." I always return with a hug and (if they're old enough or capable of doing so) we have a little chat. I commend them for calming down and then help them move on. 

nonmember avatar krystian

Yeah no.

When my six year old throws a tantrum. I walk away. When she is ready to talk like a 1st grader I will speak to her.

craft... crafty_mama85

I tell my 5 year old she has 5 minutes. I will set the timer and tell her she has 5 minutes to cry and get it out of system. She stops right away and we move on.

Evaly... EvalynCarnate

I'm a 100% Walk Awayer. Or I'll turn my back to them until they're calm enough for us to figure out the situation. I'll say "I love you, and I understand you're mad, but I cannot hear your words so I'm leaving until you calm down."

lukes... lukesmama87

I have a two year old and every time I walk away during one of his tantrums, he gets up and stops crying. If I stand there and try to talk to him while he is acting out, he will just see it as if he throws a fit, I will give him attention

Goobi... Goobieville

I can't be the only one who read this and thought "what's left to do?"

While with most if them " bribing, mocking, laughing etc) walking away is the BEST thing to do for most children! Take away the audience!

Goobi... Goobieville

That second half of my comment should have read :

While I don't agree with most of it (bribing, mocking, laughing etc) Walking away is the BEST thing you can do for most children, take away the audience!

purra... purracious

Thanks for that commenters, the walking away thing kind of seemed like a sensible thing to do. If theyre so upset, why not give them their space and let it out on their own? Wouldn't that give them a sense of self control, if they know you'll be there when they're done?

(I'm a first time mom with a 2 yr old who is the size of a 4 yr old.)

hart57 hart57

What should you do than? I'm in deep with tantrums right now. I try to walk away, but some days that is hard. I like the timmer idea.

aasmi... aasmith88

I don't agree with the walking away.. 

I give my dd 5 minutes tops if I haven't been able to calm down and it is clear she isn't in pain, she goes in her room for a cool down minute. Usually within 2 minutes she is ready to talk. 

1-10 of 61 comments 12345 Last