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?

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