Don’t Let Your Toddler Overpower You: Dealing with Tantrums

So, I educate parents for a living. I get questions about discipline all the time! Obviously, I don’t know what to do in every situation and my suggestions don’t work every time, but parents rarely implement the advice I give them. I’ve noticed that parents don’t want to put in a lot of effort. What parents don’t understand is that working really hard at discipline for a little while makes sooo much less work for them in the long run. Come on people! Your toddler will figure you out, find your breaking point, and push you to it every time once he or she finds it! YOU’RE LETTING A TINY, SWEET FACED, 26 POUND, 2 YEAR OLD OVERPOWER YOU!!!

The purpose of discipline is to teach your child what is appropriate and what is not, right? So that’s the goal. Along the way, you absolutely have to show them that you are not going to give in to their tantrums. There are lots of lessons children learn through discipline! So, if your child is throwing a tantrum and you give in to them one time, they’ve won. They’ve figured you out. You have a breaking point. Your sweet, innocent baby is thinking “Now I know that if I scream and cry and throw myself enough, mom or dad will give me what I want. Mwahaha!”


First of all, never ever ever give your child what they are screaming and crying for. This will reinforce the behavior. If you are in a grocery store and your child wants a sucker and you say no, he starts to cry. He won’t stop and he gets louder, so you give him the sucker. The crying stops. A week later, you’re nearing the check out line and what do you think your toddler does? Cries for a sucker. You say no so he keeps crying. You mean it this time! So he cries louder and maybe even throws himself on the floor! He knows that this worked last week, so “If I keep going, mom or dad will give me a sucker!” If you keep from giving in the first time, your child will know you mean business. And kids are smart little buggers. “If it worked for a sucker, maybe it’ll work to not eat my veggies or to not go to bed when my parents want me to.”


Well what are you supposed to do then? Let them cry. Attention reinforces behavior too. Your little guy or girl loves mommy’ and daddy’s attention (or anyone’s). Do not make eye contact. Do not talk to your toddler. Do not yell. As long as he is not going to hurt himself, completely ignore him until his tantrum stops. If he might hurt himself or someone else from thrashing around, hold him in your lap, holding his arms and legs without hurting him, still not talking to him, until he calms down. If you’re a parent who has already been giving in to your child, it’s ok. It might take a bit longer than for a parent who started this from the beginning, but you can start now. Your child will see that you’ve changed after a few times and that they can’t win you over anymore.

Parents say “I was in public. I didn’t know what to do.” If you’re in public, you still can’t give in. Your child might learn that he can get what he wants when you’re out and about and throw a tantrum every time you’re in public. You might get stares or comments, but isn’t teaching your child to listen to you and to control his reaction to his emotions more important than some strangers opinion? If you can, take your child to another room, outside, or to the car when he starts throwing one, you can tell he is going to start throwing a tantrum, or even when he starts getting grumpy or tired. Other people’s attention could be reinforcing the behavior as well. Plus, other people don’t like hearing screaming kiddos.

Here are some more tips for dealing with temper tantrums:

Children begin throwing tantrums because they don’t know how to deal with their intense emotions. When a tantrum is over, acknowledge the feeling your child was having, but explain that it is not appropriate to act that way. You can say “I know it was really upsetting when you couldn’t have a cookie before dinner, but screaming will not get you a cookie and screaming is not what we do when we are upset. Maybe next time you can take a deep breath or sit in the other room until you calm down.” (Suggestions obviously work better with older kids, who are learning to control their emotions).

Children are going to throw tantrums, even if you do everything right. Like I said, they don’t know what to do with their emotions. They’re still learning. Keep giving them words for their feelings and they’ll eventually use them instead of throwing a tantrum (usually).

Make sure your child is not hungry, tired, or sick because kids cannot control themselves as well under these conditions. (I mean, can you blame them?)

After ignoring, you can try switching immediately to giving attention when the behavior stops. This may work for kids who are big attention seekers.

Praise your child when you see him controlling himself and making good choices! Praises can work so much better than punishments! You can say something like “I can see that it was making your angry when I asked you to pick up your toys, but you calmed yourself down and used your words! That was great! And thank you so much for doing as I asked!”
Good luck! Stay strong. You can do this.

“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not to join their chaos.” -L.R. Knost
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