Temper Tantrums…..  How best to deal with them?

We’ve all been there.  There’s your angel transformed into a screaming, hitting, kicking, beetroot-faced baby dragon and you feel the whole world is walking by watching you and judging you to be the most incompetent parent on the planet.  Walk away, pretend the monster isn’t yours, duck into the nearest loo and plan your permanent escape from parenthood…… 

Step back

Let’s take a step back for a moment and try to understand the child’s perspective of any given situation at around the age of 2.  Understanding won’t make the tantrums magically go away of course, but it does allow us to react to and deal with heated situations in a more productive, sane way!  Until about the age of 2 babies just follow their natural instincts.  Cry, laugh, gurgle, babble, pee and poo at will, no constraints.  However around the age of 2 parents begin to make more ‘requests’ on the child and begin moulding the child to ‘fit in’ to our world socially.  At first, this will make no sense whatsoever to the child.  Increasingly parents find themselves saying ‘no’ more and more often at a time when the child is exploring its new found independence of movement (has just got up on his or her feet and begun walking) and language (first words and real communication has begun). The child has realised that they are their own person, unique.  They have their own desires and a growing ability to get them, turning on a tantrum to a maximum being one of their possibly favourite ploys…!  The ‘terrible twos’ are a time when the young child begins to explore his or her own uniqueness and slowly has to learn how to relate and interact with other people and the world around them.  So it’s a simple ‘problem.  They want, you say ‘no’ for various usually very well-founded reasons and their frustration grows and grows and grows…..    

Ha Ha, sure great….

Right!  All very well says you.  But there you are beyond sanity facing off with your two year old monster.  So what is the best way to deal with your toddler’s tantrums? 

The art of saying No

First let’s look at how we say ‘no’.  Consistency!  Parents need to have definite boundaries regarding behaviours and when a child pushes these boundaries the parent needs to say no each time, consistently.  The ‘no’ should be firm, but not angry and always predictable, i.e., your child should understand that the behaviour is not acceptable and is always unacceptable, no exceptions. 

Temper tantrums are often a child’s ‘power play’ and not just 2 year olds, older children too.  The child wants to shift the balance of power from the parent to themselves and call the shots.  And needless to say the more a parent gives into a child, the more the child will rule the roost.  In being firm, you are not loving your child less, quite the opposite.  Children who always get their own way tend only to escalate their aggressive, bad behaviour until they truly do run the house, making it a miserable place.  Such children continue out into school and have all sorts of behavioural problems there too. So giving in to children all the time and not having firm, consistent boundaries results in increasing temper tantrums not fewer. 

Self-control needs to be taught

Of course children need to be taught self-control. This is why it is vital to give children choices so that they can learn self-control.  For example, ‘if you have that cookie now, then you can’t have another one after dinner’.  The child decides.  Of course said child will try to get another cookie, but then you the parent remind them of their choice and so on.  And yes I know, the whines grind you down, but being firm means that over time as your child develops, they know the rules and life will run more smoothly….

Tantrums at the worst possible times….

In my experience, temper tantrums nearly always happen at the worst or more accurately the most inconvenient times.  Invariably your toddler or young child will act out  when you are trying to get to work on time, trying to get older kids out to school on time, trying to get to a doctor’s or dental appointment, trying to do the shopping etc. etc. etc.…..  And many of us, just lose it completely!   And I admit here I have personally screamed, used bad language and behaved like a demon myself on occasion.  So I think all parents need to go a little bit easier on themselves and accept that at times parenting is simply beyond difficult. 


Parenting is very, very challenging.  It is 24/7.  There is no training and no manual to consult.  And you cannot return the goods!  So go easy on yourself.   Of course if you have completely lost the plot with your child, it is important to apologise to the child (goes for older children too) and talk with your children, yes even toddlers, bring the conversation to their level and explain why the said behaviour and consequences made Mom or Dad so cross. 

But what to do when a child creates a scene in a public place??

Meltdowns in supermarkets, restaurants, airports, toy-stores, churches or any public place you care to mention is very common so much so that many of us don’t really notice or at least think nothing of it.    The best way of looking at why a toddler or young child acts out in a supermarket for example is simple.  They see it as ‘play city’.  You are there to shop.  You want to get the job done as quickly as possible.  Child wants to play and add a lot of unnecessary groceries to your cart.  They are not deliberately trying to make life difficult for you, they just have a conflicting agenda if you like!  Anyways says you, so what???  Same result.  They scream blue murder and act out.  So what to do? 

It is natural for children to want to play and enjoy the shopping experience.  What they need to learn though is that the supermarket trip is not for play and their pleasure.  It is for Mom or Dad to replenish the larder.    Here are some suggestions you can try:-

1.    Before going in, remind your child that you are there to shop, not to play.

2.   Invite your child, yes even the toddler, to help you.  Their job can be to help you to take the required products off the shelves and put them into the cart. 

3.   You can ask them to find stuff for you.  For example, ‘Can you see where the strawberry jam is’ and so on..

If child doesn’t cooperate you leave.  Yes, you must stick to your guns.  Return to the car.  Return home and tell child, you will shop later alone. 

Mind your own business….

Never react to other people’s stares.  Anyone who looks at you critically holds an opinion that is unimportant.  Losing your reason with your child should be the last straw.  In fact, the fewer words you use the better. A lot of parents may be sorely tempted to use bribery at this point, it’s really the wrong way to go, but yes, I am human, I have done so on occasion and no doubt when at a lower ebb will do so again in the future too.  So I don’t beat myself up too much and do my best to be consistently consistent!! 


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