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Toddler Tantrum

By Jan Murray

Your toddler has boundless energy and keeps challenging whoever is around until she gets the result she wants. If she never gets it she will stop trying and eventually move onto something else – she learnt the boundary. If you give in, even once, your toddler will keep going until you break again.

Your toddler has a very strong desire to get things right. When she is unable to get things to go her way, she gets very frustrated and acts out what toddlers are famous for — tantrums. Depending upon her temperament, she may experience regular tantrums, whereas others have them occasionally. A similar behaviour is also evident in babies just before a physical milestone such as crawling. This frustration helps to propel them forward to achieve.


Tantrums are a physical outburst of the frustration felt by your toddler when things aren’t going the way she would like them to. Common tantrum behaviours exhibited by yours or other toddlers include:

  • Stamping the feet
  • Screaming and yelling
  • Kicking
  • Squealing
  • Throwing herself to the floor
  • Head banging on the floor or a wall
  • Holding her breath until she passes out (now there’s a fun one)
  • Biting
  • Deliberately not eating
  • Holding on to poo.

It is important to recognise that a tantrum is normal behaviour in your toddler’s development. Tantrums can be of two types – manipulative tantrums and frustration tantrums.

Manipulative Tantrums arise out of desires. Your toddler may use manipulative tantrums to get things done her way such as to force you to buy a toy or a lolly. It is best to ignore and walk away from this type of tantrum.

Frustration Tantrums arise because of their inability to express an emotion. Sometimes your toddler’s mental and motor skills have progressed more quickly than her ability to communicate. Not being able to express herself enough for you to understand what she wants to do or get done, leads to a frustration tantrum. Don’t ignore this tantrum but help her work whatever it is out.

It is important to help your toddler understand and learn what is acceptable behaviour and what is not (some adults have never learnt this). A tantrum indicates that your toddler is gaining a healthy sense of identity and independence. Your response to a tantrum is therefore significant for what your toddler learns about controlling emotions and making acceptable choices. Eventually, she will learn self-control and constructive willpower. By managing tantrum behaviour in a positive way you will help her come out the other end at three years old having learnt valuable character traits.

What you can do to survive these challenging years:

  • Set sensible expectations and limits of behaviour and BE CONSISTENT when enforcing them as your toddler quickly learns you mean what you say if you follow through but are confused when you don’t.
  • It is important that both parents discuss and set the same boundaries to enforce.
  • When going on outings, explain to your toddler in simple terms where you are going and what behaviour you expect from her. Your toddler likes to know what is happening and what is expected. Keep expectations positive, not negative. For example, we walk when we are inside Jane’s house rather than we don’t run in Jane’s house. Saying it this way helps the brain to program pictures better.
  • Help your toddler understand what she can do to help herself feel better, such as, when I feel sad I look at a colourful book to help me feel better. Then do it with her so she can experience how it helps them feel better
  • Try to avoid situations that are likely to result in a tantrum. For example, if your toddler is tired and hungry, that is not the time to take her shopping
  • When a tantrum does occur, respond to it immediately and don’t bring it up again later or wait until daddy gets home! Forgive and move on — she will.
  • Let your toddler know that her behaviour is not acceptable, rather than she is not acceptable. For example, “biting Ava was a bad thing to do”, rather than saying, “you are a bad girl for biting Ava”.
  • Keep instructions simple and to the point.
  • If it is appropriate, ignore some of her behaviour or place her in a safe place until she calms down – avoid using the bedroom. This area needs to be a happy place not one of punishment or you will find it a battle to get her to bed at night.
  • Time out disciplines usually work best for the toddler over 2 ½ years old. Avoiding situations, distracting and moving her away works best for the younger toddler (12 months – 36 months).
  • Keep focused through this stage of development and remember you are teaching your toddler to learn about self-control, consequences of her actions and acceptable choices.
  • Give your toddler consistent messages. For example if you laugh at an action she did at home but get angry at the same action when she is out, the message she gets is inconsistent and confusing
  • Celebrate what she does right by praising her behaviour rather than concentrating on the things that she does wrong.
  • It is your tone and pitch of voice as you praise her behaviour that is just as important as the words you say.

Handling tantrums at public places:

  • Your toddler may get uncomfortable with new surroundings. If she often throws tantrums at public places like shopping malls and gives you a hard time, then it is quite possible that she may not like to be out in an unfamiliar place and around unfamiliar people.
  • Let your baby know you are there with them. Be with her all the time. Do not ignore her. Give her a hug or pick her up gently and take a stroll. This calms her down and then you may carry on with your work.
  • Be prepared to feed your toddler. Always take food and water along so that you can feed her if she feels hungry or thirsty at a public place.
  • Take your toddler away from the crowd. If your toddler is not settling down you may take her to a quiet place like a restroom or to your car and let her calm down. Once she is better, talk to her in a gentle tone – reassure her that you are around if she feels afraid.
  • Carry her favourite toys along. You may carry her favourite possessions like water bottle, sipper cup or her favorite toy to create companionship. If you find it difficult to manage so many things along with an uncomfortable toddler, take her pram. This way, you can put her to rest and tuck her belongings in the pram as well.


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This article was brought to you by Jan Murray, Private Child Health Consultant who is an internationally renowned expert in her field. Jan encourages parents in the area of infant sleep, nutrition, activities and family balance. 

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