How to Deal with Tantrums

Note: This post was first published in 2017 but has been updated.


Overnight your child mutated from a cute toddler into a fit-throwing stranger, as volatile as the Middle East. 

You’re bewildered, frustrated, embarrassed, weary, and don’t know what to do.  

Where did your sweet child go?

How do you calm a tantrum?

I’m going to share my unpopular opinion about tantrums:

You don’t have to tolerate tantrums.

I repeat:  You don’t have to tolerate tantrums.  In fact, you shouldn’t tolerate them. Not even once.   

While tantrums are considered a “normal” stage of development (what’s “normal” about throwing yourself on the floor?) you should not see them as normal.

My observation is that tantrums are always the result of a child not getting what they want.    

Whether sparked by frustration because you took a toy away, or because the child is unable to express themselves, or the fact that they can’t have what they want, now – makes no difference. 

Tantrums are never excusable.

Strong emotions are not an excuse for fit-throwing.     

It is never ok to give out-of-control expression to anger. It’s not ok in an adult, and it’s not ok in a child.  The sooner you help your child learn this the better.

What happens if you ignore tantrums?

Tantrums are a learned behaviour, and if a child gets his way as a result of his tantrum even 5 out of 10 times, that intermittent reinforcement makes it a very solid learned behaviour. Your child will continue the behaviour in order to get what they want.

If you do nothing about the tantrum, and permit your child to throw herself on the floor, it will be repeated. Repetition results in habit and habits form a child’s character.

Related: How to Teach Kids Emotional Regulation

But what should you do when your child does throw a tantrum?  

So, perhaps you agree that your child shouldn’t throw tantrums, but they still do, and you don’t know what to do about it.  

What not to do:

  • Don’t give in
  • Don’t ignore
  • Don’t reason
  • Don’t ask questions

What to do instead:

#1 Be prayerful

Ask God to be in control of you so that you do not act in anger. Surrender your own frustrations and anger to Him so you can be influenced by the Holy Spirit as you deal with your child.  

#2 Acknowledge your child’s emotions

“I understand that you don’t want to come inside right now. It is hard to stop playing when you’re having fun.”

#3 Distract if possible

If you sense a tantrum brewing, distraction may work. However, if the tantrum has already started it will be hard to stop because the child’s brain is in full tantrum mode and can’t think or reason.

Related: How to discipline your baby or toddler

#4 Tell them to stop

Command your child in an authoritative tone to stop the tantrum. Authoritative does not mean angry, loud, harsh, or impatient. Just commanding.

Tell them that when they stop you’ll give them a hug and talk about it.   

If your child continues to scream/thrash/hold their breath then you must make this negative behaviour counterproductive.

#5 Give a consequence

Consequences teach a child that they reap what they sow.

If he throws a tantrum, take him to his room and insist he stays there until he is calm. Tell him his crying hurts your ears and that you won’t stand his tantrums anymore.

If you decide to give a spanking, be sure you do not give it in anger but make sure it is firm enough to get your point across. I’m aware that this is not widely accepted and you are free to choose how you discipline your child.    

#6 Be consistent

Whenever a tantrum occurs, do what you have said you would do – whether that is isolating your child in his room, leaving the room yourself, or giving a swat on the leg.

Never give your child their way when they have a tantrum – you will only reinforce the behaviour.

#7 Be proactive

Do what you can to avoid tantrums

  • Let your child know what’s happening next. “After we finish lunch we are going to have a rest.” Give him fair warning of the end of a pleasant activity. “We have 5 more minutes to play, then we’re going to come inside.”
  • Treat your child with respect. Don’t snatch a toy from him and expect him not to be upset.  
  • Treat your child in a calm manner. In general you should calmly say what you mean, move with consideration (thoughtfully), and carry out what you say without deviation. Be firm, decisive and positive in your dealings with your child.
  • Have a strict routine so they know what’s coming next and feel secure. This is the most important first step in discipline and makes children far easier to manage.
  • Check your child’s diet. Food additives and sugar can have a huge impact on a child’s behaviour and their ability to focus and regulate their emotions.
  • Slow things down. Try not to be stressed, rushed, and impatient, it will make your child upset and more prone to tantrums.
  • Get into the habit of gently naming your child’s feelings with them. Your child will learn to connect their feelings with a word and will help them regulate their emotions. Hungry, thirsty, or tired are easy ones to recognise. Bigger emotions would be anger or sadness.
  • Be sure to fill your child’s need for attention. Make sure they know they are loved and special.

Get the Emotional Intelligence Bundle for Moms & Kids:

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The goal with a child prone to tantrums is to help him unlearn this response, and learn other, more mature ways to handle his emotions.

If you’ve tolerated tantrums then this may take a while.

Related: The one thing that will make your child turn out well

You will not damage your child emotionally or psychologically if you don’t allow your child to hold their breath, hit, bite, kick or scream. Instead they will be happier and a joy to be around. 

Your child can learn self-control at a young age, and it’s one of your first tasks as a mother to teach your child self-restraint.

Are you tolerating tantrums?  What can you do to do to help your child learn self-control? 

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer has three grown kids and is married to her best friend, Richard. She started this website as a platform to help families, and specifically women, to take control of their lives and grow themselves spiritually, mentally & emotionally, and to discover their God-given purpose and live it out with confidence. She is a trained Life Coach and has diplomas in relationship counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). She is a certified SYMBIS (Save Your Marriage Before It Starts) facilitator. She lives in sunny South Africa.


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