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Taming a toddler tantrum

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

There's no avoiding it - at some point between 18 months and three, your sweet, lovely, smiley baby's going to treat you to a fair few contrary, wilful, ear-splitting toddler strops. Stamping, screaming, sobbing - tantrums can really shock, until you know how to make them stop.

Why the tantrums?

Perhaps the first thing to understand is that tantrums are a fact of toddler life. And, at this age, it's not about disobedience but simple frustration - at not being able to get the jigsaw piece in the hole, at being yanked from the muddy puddle when she was having so much fun, at not being able to find the words to say what she means.

This is not the time for time-outs and naughty steps. Yes, your child needs you to be firm and clear about what's acceptable and what's not, but she also needs your help in dealing with the storm of emotions that's spinning her out of control.

Avoid the triggers

  • Put your toddler in certain situations and you can practically guarantee a tantrum. Solution? Avoid these situations in the first place and:
  • Don't overdo it. A tired and hungry child is a tantrum waiting to happen. Stick to a daily routine of regular mealtimes and bedtimes and at least one nap a day.
  • Explain what's happening. If you are doing anything out of the ordinary, talk your child through it first. If she has some idea of what to expect, she's less likely to kick up a fuss.
  • Switch to toddler time. Toddlers don't do rushing. They just don't understand why you're in such a hurry to get to nursery, the shops, your friend's house. And frantically hurrying them along can set off a strop. Build in extra time to get places and you'll save tempers all round.
  • Make your house toddler-safe. If all you ever say is, "Don't touch that!", you're just inviting rebellion.

Learn the tactics

Oh no, that bottom lip's beginning to wobble. To stop a tantrum before it really starts, you need to:

  • Distract her. Point with huge excitement at a car in the street or a toy across the room: anything that will divert her attention from what's upsetting her.
  • Act the fool. She won't get in her buggy? You get in instead! Even toddlers can't laugh and strop at the same time.
  • Appear to agree. She wants a biscuit; you don't want to spoil her appetite for lunch. Substitute, "No, no biscuits!" for "Yes, we'll have a biscuit at lunchtime".
  • Offer choices. Older toddlers love having choices: it makes them feel in control. Just be sure both choices get you the result you're after! So, instead of, "Put your coat on or we don't go to the park!", say, "Which coat are you wearing to the park - the red one or the blue one?"
  • Think big picture and let the small things go. Don't make an issue of every little toddler annoyance.
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