Violent Temper Tantrums: How to Deal


angry lionTemper tantrums are a normal part of a toddler's growing up. But when those tantrums turn violent, with throwing, screaming, and hitting, it can be downright scary. BusyBee908's 4-year-old son has been having some pretty horrible ones. The usual time-outs just don't work. She asked the Toddler Moms (requires membership) group how to make them stop.

My four year old son has a pretty bad temper. When he doesn't get his own way he starts screaming and throwing things. I can't put him in his room, because he just comes out swinging. I have even tried locking him in his room, but he kicks his door really hard over and over.

The worst tantrum my son had was about a year ago. I don't remember what set him off, but he threw his TV in his room, across the room. He was kicking the door, and screaming like he was possessed or something. I was at my wits end, and actually took him to his pediatrician that same day, in tears. She told me kids go through phases, and to be patient and consistent with discipline. She was right, and he stopped having them for a while, like it was a phase, but now they pop up now and again.

I talked to usa29, a mom and who has plenty of experience dealing with violent temper tantrums in her work as an early childhood specialist for at-risk kids in West Virginia.

First off, why do they happen?

Typically, tantrums are a result of a child that is overwhelmed. Often, it is a child with strong will that wants his own way.

Usually, the violent ones are a result of giving in to the normal tantrums at times. Typically, the child has learned that the tantrum worked. When mom started putting her foot down, they had to ramp up the tantrum.

How do I discipline my toddler when time-outs don't work?

Try removing his favorite toys. If he throws the TV, it disappears. He can't get away with destructive acts. You have to let him know his behavior is not okay. And you have to be firm and consistent -- you can not give in!! That only reinforces his thinking that "I'm going to get my way."

But when I do this, his tantrums get even worse!

His tantrums will be more destructive as you become more firm, but eventually he'll learn that it doesn't work. Again, be firm and consistent. If you said no, you mean no! As he begins throwing or kicking things when he's being punished, calmly remove the things he can break and just let him go. Let him know when he's done, you'll talk to him.

But I'm afraid he's going to hurt himself!

Watch over him, don't leave him alone. If you try to ignore him, he'll just attempt to get your attention by being more destructive. The key is for you to remain calm. If you start to yell, scream or cry, he wins. He's learned that he pushes a button on a toy, and the toy pops open. Now he knows how to push his parents' buttons and it's just as amusing as watching Elmo do the chicken dance.

What should I do if this happens in public?

We don't want to let our kids get away with something, but we don't want to cause a public scene either. The key here is to teach them how to behave beforehand, while he is calm, not when he's already losing it. He won't learn much in that state!

How do I teach him to behave?

Play games with him that require turn taking and following directions. Believe me, the key is to play with your kids. A game I always play with my little ones involves building towers with blocks. We take turns putting a block on and then the little one has to wait until I say go before she can knock it down. This teaches patience and she learns to respect the fact that the adult is in charge. I'll say, "Ready, set," and then vary the time between set and go.

You can alter the rules for the toys you have. If he likes ride-on toys, set up a course and you be the stop sign. In general, children learn acceptable behavior when they interact with others every day. If left to watch TV and play on their own, they don't learn that give and take.

How do you handle a tantrum in public?

Let them know ahead of time where they are going, what behavior you expect of them, and what will happen if they don't behave. If it's a trip to the store, let them help you. Give them a job to do. Often kids act out because they are bored. Keep them busy!

If you are in line, try distracting them with a game of "I see a --", where you name an item (a blue scarf) and they have to scan the store to find it. Believe me, if it causes a scene, more than likely every parent in that store has had that happen and can relate. If they do have a meltdown, calmly remove them, put them in the car and take them home, and then punish them the way you told them you would.

Could violent tantrums be a sign that something deeper is wrong?

Yes, there may be underlying reasons your child is becoming overwhelmed and losing control. If you notice he likes to rock himself when he's upset, or if he bangs his head, stands on his head, pinches himself, etc., he may be having some sensory issues. That's the most common one I've come across. Some kids are so overwhelmed by overstimulation they lose control.Talk to your pediatrician about seeing a behavior specialist.

They can learn control though, don't get me wrong. It just may take a sensory approach to dealing with it. It may also be related to their diet. But whatever you do, try to avoid the medication route. Try everything else first.

++Any other words of advice for BusyBee908 and other moms trying to cope with violent temper tantrums?

development & growth, developmental delays, discipline, tantrums, toys


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Mme.L... Mme.Langley

I'm sorry, but I can't understand how you could let your child go that far. i don't want to be judgemental, but it seems clear to me that you are not one to "spank" your child. Its every parents decision, how to discipline their children, but seriously? You have let your child take control of the relationship you have with them. How do you deal with temper tantrums? You dont let them happen. You let your child know that you WILL NOT TOLERATE that kind of behavior. You take control of the situation like a parent should. They did not come out of your body throwing tantrums. They learned that this kind of behavior gets your attention.

Honestly, if you can't handle your child at 4, how will you handle them at 15? 17? Take charge now... You can't be afraid of some "tough love". In the end, they will appreciate what you did. You are the adult.

Kay300 Kay300

I used a 'Belt' and I used it good.......  I only had to do it once that I can remember.....  My kids a teenager now, and I still don't have any trouble..... and I would get the Belt out again if I have to even now.......  I'm in Control and I will Be respected.....  There's a lot of kids, that NEED a Belt..........  If I even pulled it out after the one time, she backed right off.........  This isn't fair to anyone including Teacher's at schools to have to put up with Kids like this.....  You get the control back!!!!!!!! They have to have some Fear... they really do..........

MNMom... MNMom247365

I am sorry but the previous statements seem a bit harsh (IMO). I agree with what usa29 said. She is right on with everything. My only other suggestion would be about the fear of him hurting himself. Restrain him. Hold him from behind crossing his arms in front of his chest. If you need to sit down while you do this so he doesn't kick you. This is the "legally" acceptable way to restrain a child who is either going to harm your or themselves. When you are holding them tell them to let it all out and let them know that they are safe and you are trying to protect them. Sometimes just having your arms around them makes them feel safe and they are able to gain control again. I recommend reading three books; Parenting with Love and Logic as well as Too Loud Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight and also Raising Your Spirited Child. All of them are very informative and may be helpful in your situation. Also remember he is a kid, LOVE HIM for who he is...

Acid Acid

I hope that after the TV throwing incident you took it away and fast.  No four year old needs a TV in his room anyways, but that is JMHO.

I agree with the other mama;s here.  You need to get things back under control.  Your four year old is not the parent here, you are.  If you let it escalate to screaming and throwing things, he knows that he can get away with it and will continue to push the buttons.  Stop him now.  In anyway you can, clean out his room so he has a bed, a dresser and a light.  When he doesn't throw a tantrum over something silly for a week, he can pick something that goes back into his room

If he even LOOKS like he is about to throw a fit, stop him right away.  Spank his bum if  you have to..let him know that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated in your house.  If you don't want to spank, then sit him in a timeout, in a timeout chair anything.

Good Luck

Sassy... Sassy0876

My almost 3yr old son throws tantrums.  Mostly when he doesn't get his way with his sister's.  He will hit them and punch them till he gets his way!!  I have had problems with  punishment with this, but I guess i wlll find a way to deal with it!!

JPsMo... JPsMommy605

When my son turned 3, he started having what I could only call "extreme" tantrums - but what I noticed as it came on what that HE lost control - I didn't.  This wasn't like is regular tantrums - I could see it in his eyes - he literally lost control.  My only thought was "How can I help him find his way back."  So I did the first thing I could think of - I thew water on him.  I did this to shock him - and it worked.  For the next few months, he would start to have these extreme tantrums and each time, I would pour a water on him - not a lot, but enough to snap him out of it.  I only did this when he started losing control and kicking and could possibly hurt himself.  6 months later and all his tantrums are back down to "normal" - a bit of crying then he calms down.  Though every now and then, he jokes about throwing water at me...LOL.

zinnia11 zinnia11

MmeLangley, you sound so judgemental and condescending to the mom asking for help. Maybe you could have some positive words of encouragement or advice instead. It must be a very painful and stressful experience for her family to be going through.

BusyBee908, I feel your pain. I have two sons who are polar opposites tempermentally . My husband and I thought we knew what we were doing after going through the first 4 years with my older, laid back son until we had son #2, type A, and had to start from scratch. He has had some violent tantrums but I think that he has matured so much over the past few years. The best thing I can offer is to say that they need and want limits set on them even though they throw huge fits when you do. Also, implementing time out is one of the best tools you can use if done correctly. When done wrong, it is useless. I love books by Dr. Brazelton. He explains the right way to do time out and why it is so effective. I have made plenty of mistakes but I have found what works for us with our kids. I have even tried spanking. But when my husband and I tried it, things seemed to get more violent. We went back to using time out with more success. I would definitely take the tv out of the room. When using time out and he is not sitting still, you might have to hold him tightly in the corner, away from any distractions and gradually let go when things calmed down.

Good luck to you. A pediatric psychologist can be helpful.

BusyB... BusyBee908

Thank you for all of your comments. I didn't realize how much I put myself on the chopping block here! I don't get on here often because I can  only get on when the kids are napping, and they are now fighting their naps. But I just wanted to respond to you all. First of all, I have tried spanking, something I never wanted to do. It didn't work, so I quit doing it. The best thing that has worked is positive rienforcement. I bought a book based on the tv show "Supernanny". She taught me how to do a good behavior chart, and use stickers to encourage good behavior. It has worked wonders. My kids will clean their rooms, or just do as I say so they can get a sticker on their chart. 5 stickers in one day, and they get a small peice of candy. Also, time outs,(the naughty chair) and putting him back in there if he gets out, even if it means doing it over and over and over.(very tedious!) But just showing that I wont back down and meaning what I say. I really wanted to put this on here in the first place to get advice, but even since doing it, I have helped myself, and maybe some of these things can help someone else. I really liked the water technique, I wonder what my kids would think if I threw water on them! lol. Maybe I'll try that sometime. Anyway, thank you all for your support, it isn't easy being a mom, but I'm glad I can come to all of you when I'm feeling alone in it all.

danahake danahake

ive never heard of this throw water on them i may try it my son has ahd extreme beahvior issues since his 16 mos shots and some times i just get sick of repeating myself.. as for the belt lady you are on a power trip you must be an 80's parent that is not how things are done anymore. its not a power play and all i can say is CPS!  i am  a believer in mild spanking on diaper to get their attention not abuse.. but for some kids it just doesnt work

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