How to Help Toddlers and Preschoolers with Tantrums


The toddler and preschool years are both satisfying and demanding, as parents know. One of the biggest challenges facing parents of young children is tantrums. Knowing the right way to deal with this complicated behavior is hard for a number of reasons. Trying to diffuse the behavior as quickly as possible is one struggle facing parents. Another tricky issue is worrying whether discipline used will be effective. Parents want to find corrective actions that are healthy and won’t have any unfavorable consequences. This article will be helpful to parents and children going through the complex phase of tantrums.

He or she feels misunderstood

One of the most common reasons a toddler or preschooler throws a tantrum is that he or she feels misunderstood. If an adult was frustrated and had no other way to get their point across, they might fling their body onto the ground, convulse, and start screaming, too. A tantrum may still take place initially, but will likely be shortened if the kid is made to feel taken seriously. If a kid is throwing a fit because he wants to play with something dangerous, a mom or dad could tell the child, “You want that. I know you want the scissors, but they’re dangerous. I’m sorry you’re so mad, but you can’t have them.” Most likely, he will start crying less vigorously. He may want to argue, but at least his emotional control has been regained, and there is an opening for conversation. This is a good time to reinforce why the youngster can’t have what he wants, and to try to redirect his attention. If the tantrum is thrown by a very young toddler, many people have found trying to speak their language to be helpful with making this technique work better. Get down to their eye-level, and speak simply and slowly. “You want scissors. No scissors. Ouch! No touch,” will help the kid feel like you are paying attention to his or her feelings. Making kids understand that you listen helps them to know that it isn’t their feelings that are wrong. The earlier a person understands that his or her feelings are valid and that everyone is responsible for their own behavior, the sooner they will get a good grip on emotional control. This is also very important for healthy emotional development and self-esteem.

Let your child know that it is okay to cry

Not all tantrums can be prevented or settled down by talking. After all, a kid’s whole reason for throwing tantrums is the inability to reason or have control over their feelings. For a tantrum that has become one of the wild, out of control, runaway train variety, it is best to let it run its course. No one wants to let their kid become the one who makes a habit out of throwing their body onto the ground and shrieking at everyone. One very good way to prevent the habit of public tantrums is to let your child know that it is okay to cry, but it’s something that has to be done in private if it goes on for more than a few minutes. If your kid has hurt herself, you’ve been sympathetic and attentive, and her initial pain and sadness has escalated to rage, it is time to enact the Crying Space Rule. Let your child know that you understand she is mad, but that if she needs to keep crying, she can do it in her crying space. Designate a space in your home that will always be used as this spot. (Multiple children require multiple crying spaces. Everyone needs to feel that he or she has a unique place in the world where pitching a fit is acceptable as long as it isn’t displayed for all to see.) Whether it is in her room, a specific chair, on the floor in a precise spot, or in the bathtub, it is best to let the kid cry it out for as long as she needs. Tell her she is welcome to come back and spend time with you as soon as she’s done with her fit.

You’re so mad!

Very young toddlers can’t grasp the discipline many adults try to force upon them. If validation, talking, the crying spot, or any other method tried is above your toddler’s head, try to find a distraction. Quickly name the emotion, validate the feelings, and find something to take his attention off the matter at hand. Try saying, “You’re so mad! It’s so hard to be so mad!” After making this simple statement, try giving him another toy, changing his scenery by going outside or in another room, or try to get him into a game or song. If none of the traditional distractions are working, it is time to pull out the big guns. Turn on a song you both like, crank the stereo as high as you can stand, and start dancing wildly about. Your toddler will be so shocked or so amused he will simply forget what was bothering him in the first place.

No parent is perfect. Everyone with children has moments of wanting to cry or throw a fit of their own. As long as you can take a step back from what is going on and always discipline with your kid’s best interest at heart, it will work out all right.