updated 30 Dec 2011, 08:16
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Fri, Dec 30, 2011
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Managing your child's temper tantrums
by Fiona Walker

Temper tantrums are part and parcel of parenting a young child. Almost all children between the age of 18 months and 3 years old will, at some stage, succumb to total frustration by really 'losing it'!

A number of factors can influence how likely your child is to have a tantrum. Firstly, there is your child's temperament.

Some children will have a more fiery character than others. These children may become more easily frustrated and not be able to handle disappointment as well as easy-going children.

If you know this about your child, you can try to minimise situations that could lead to a tantrum.

Remember that for a two or three-year-old, it is all about NOW. It is very hard to explain that they can do something later.

For about a year, I would go right out of my way to avoid ride-on toys in shopping malls unless I was prepared to stop while my son had played.

Secondly, whether your child is stressed, tired, hungry or overexcited will make a huge difference. Be well aware of your child's rhythm and routine. Tantrums in my house are much more likely to occur in the late afternoon right before dinner.

I now make sure my children have some fruit or other snacks in the afternoon so they are not so hungry and are less likely to fight with one another, or even fight with me!

Understanding why your child may be having a melt down also enables you to handle it better.

Knowing that it is because he or she is hungry, skipped a nap and has a runny nose and NOT because they are unreasonable, selfish, an egomaniac means you keep it in perspective and do not get drawn into the tantrum by overreacting.

It is vital to remain calm and consistent, which is not always easy in the face of a screaming, pulling, red-faced child who is doing everything in his or her power to embarrass you.

Once a child is having a tantrum, you can either stand back and let him roar and kick or very calmly pick him up and walk briskly away.

If you are at home you can send your child to his or her room until they are feeling calmer. This will only work if they are old enough to understand why this is being done.

Remove any dangerous or breakable objects because you don't want your child to get hurt.

In some cases, if your child is very physical and end up harming himself or herself, you may need to hold your child.

The best way to do this is to sit with your child and firmly wrap your arms around him or her in a secure 'hug'. You are very unlikely to be able to reason with him or her at that time. Just wait - the storm will pass.

Some children will hold their breath while having a temper tantrum. This can be alarming, especially as they may go red in the face. But they will breath again automatically, even if they pass out.

The best way to help a child who is having a tantrum is by remaining calm. Try to ignore the behaviour until it stops. You cannot reason with a child who is having a tantrum and it would be very stressful to even try.

Try to keep your voice and actions slow and deliberate. By giving your child too much attention at this time also sends the message that tantrums will get your total and undivided attention.

When the storm has blown over, you can talk about how it is difficult when you really, really want something and don't get it. It can be comforting for them to know that you understand that and that you love them no matter how hard some days are.

Explain how sometimes even Mummy or Daddy feel frustrated when things don't go according to plan and that you are always there to give a cuddle and understand.

Always remember that tantrums tend to tail off naturally by 3 or 4 years old and you will, one day, be able to laugh about it.

Here are some ways of reducing temper tantrums:

Do not give in

If your child is having a tantrum because they want something and you have said 'No' to, do not waiver. If they are having a tantrum because you have said that something must stop, for example if you want the TV to go off after this show, then repeat your desire calmly and go ahead and switch off the TV.

Be consistent

If you do not want your child to have money for the ride-ons at the shopping centre, then stick to that rule. If you sometimes put in a dollar and then sometimes you don't, your child will think screaming and yelling may change your mind.


By being aware of what will trigger a tantrum, you can try to distract your child at that time. For example if your child hates coming out of the bath before bedtime, start talking about what book you will read and continue the conversation as you gently get your child out of the bath.

Reduce the number of 'NO's

Try to say 'YES' as much as you reasonably can. Often, just hearing the word 'NO" can become a trigger for a temper tantrum.

Give choices

Let your child have some control without them being overwhelmed, by giving them simple choices.

Keep a routine

Children who get overtired or too hungry are likely to have more meltdowns than children who have an established routine and get enough sleep and regular meals and snacks.

The common age for tantrums is between 18 months and 4 or 5 years old. The older the child, the easier it is to reason with them after their temper has subsided.

It is perfectly natural to get angry, but it is how we handle that emotion that is important.


Fiona Walker is the Principal Director of Julia Gabriel Centre for Learning & Chiltern House. She holds a Masters in Early Childhood Education and is a qualified Montessori teacher with more than 20 years of experience in providing quality education for young children.

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