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11 Ways to Stop Temper Tantrums in Their Tracks

It's every parent's worst nightmare—an unstoppable toddler temper tantrum, especially when you're in public surrounded by a seemingly judge-y audience. Here, the experts share the top tantrum triggers and how to nip them in the bud.


Identify the trigger

Global parenting expert, Jo Frost explains that there are about eight to 10 common triggers that set most toddlers off on a tantrum, including under/over stimulation, being tired, blood sugar levels, craving independence, fear/anxiety, sensitivity, wanting to get their own way, being forced to share, and “just because.” Once you figure out what your child’s trigger is, it’s easier to try to talk to your child and to be prepared when entering situations where they might arise (i.e. toy store, restaurant, etc.).


Know your child

Some kids are laid-back while others are definitely more high-maintenance. Knowing how your child reacts in certain situations will help prepare you when entering a possible trigger situation. And remember, even the best behaved child can still have tantrums.


Be assertive

According to Frost, “The key to prevention (of tantrums) is assertiveness. To be in tune with your children so that you can identify what type of tantrum they are having.” Frost says there are three distinct types of tantrums: the mock, the emotional, and the situational.


Do not react

“What’s most important is that a caregiver does not react to such behavior in a way that becomes fuel to an already lit fire,” shares Frost, “Teaching our children how to regulate their emotions is vital to their development.” Screaming or having a negative reaction will only make the situation worse. It may be easier said than done, but it’s important to temper your own behavior in order to help calm your child down and show them the correct way to act. Here are some common parenting dilemmas and how to handle them.

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Create boundaries and expectations

“Toddlers like boundaries,” Brett Graff, The Home Economist and parenting expert. Frost agrees, “So for example, in a toy store, we would set up the expectations of behavior, rules, what they can expect to receive—and not—while in the store and a narrative of descriptive praise when we see that they are listening and cohering to respectful behavior.”


Avoid triggers

It may not be possible to avoid some triggers, but once you pinpoint what sets your child off, you can definitely take a preventative course. “You can keep snacks on hand, and don’t skip naps,” says Graff, “All of us, toddlers to 20-somethings to middle-aged folks, and old ones too, are better behaved when we’re fed and rested.”


Stay strong and keep your word

Graff also shares that, “Toddlers and children like to know that we mean what we say, so stay strong, keep your word (no, you still cannot have the cookie) and if necessary, you can put the child in a time-out alone, assuming it’s a safe place with no small objects to choke on.”


Be sensitive

It’s not always easy or possible for toddlers to communicate what they need or what’s wrong. “It is also important for us to understand that tantrums are also a natural part of child development too,” says Frost, “It is how children express how they feel and so we have to be sensitive yet aware of how we response as each temper tantrum is a learning opportunity for each parent every day.” Seeing sensitivity to their own problems, may help your child learn that behavior, as well. Here are some other tips to raising an empathetic child.


Listen to them

What is your child trying to tell you with their tantrum? “Toddlers aren’t great verbal communicators, which is frustrating for them,” says Graff. Sometimes, it’s just about recognizing, understanding, and validating their thoughts. It’s important to remember that children are still honing in on their senses and how to react.


Use positive reinforcement

“The most important way to prevent tantrums is to praise your toddler when he or she remains calm in a situation that typically leads to a tantrum,” shares Daniel M. Bagner, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Florida International University. This way your child knows what behavior is expected to them and will come to emulate it in order to recreate the praise they receive.


Be consistent

“It is best for parents to be consistent at home and in public,” says Bagner, “It is sometimes very difficult to ignore a tantrum in public when other people might look at a screaming child, but keep in mind that most other parents have experienced the same situation!” Frost agrees, “Parents just need to adapt to the environment that they are in. The techniques, the tools, the advice and the moral compass you take everywhere with you as a parent.” Besides taming toddler tantrums, here are some other superhuman things moms can do.

Felissa Benjamin Allard
Felissa Allard has worked at The New York Daily News, Health, Life & Style, and more. As a freelancer, she has had pieces published on What To Expect, SELF, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Modern Mom, Working Mother, and more. Her specialities are beauty, fashion, health, wellness, and parenting.