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Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrums

Your child's feelings | Temper tantrums |

Temper tantrums are most common between two and four years. Tantrums are the child's way of showing anger and frustration.

Many parents have had to deal with temper tantrums. Tantrums may take place in the privacy of your home, or in a public place like a mall. They are common in toddlers and some preschoolers.

You can get through this phase with some information to help you understand what your child is feeling, and some tips on handling them.

What are the symptoms of tantrums?

During a temper tantrum, your child may:

  • Scream, yell, cry, hold his breath.
  • Kick, bite, hit.
  • Throw herself on the floor, bang her head, pound her fists.
  • Appear 'out of control'.

This may last a few seconds to over an hour! Don't worry!

Why does this happen?

  • Young children have tantrums to express their anger and frustration.
  • They tend to express both positive and negative feelings very strongly.
  • Preschoolers may use tantrums to gain control and get what they want.
  • Tantrums often occur when there are disruptions to the child's daily routine and the child is over-tired, excited or hungry.
  • Over time, children can learn to express their feelings in words. Sometimes you can head off a toddler tantrum early, through use of distraction (e.g. "Look what's happening over here").

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What to do during tantrums:

How do I handle my child's temper tantrums?

  • Try to stay calm - don't argue, yell or try to 'talk sense' to your toddler (1-3 years).
  • For a preschooler (3-5 years) you can increase his sense of control by using "when... then" (e.g. "When you are finished yelling, then we will go outside").
  • Stay near your child as needed to protect her from getting hurt, harming others or breaking things.
  • Some children respond to firm, but gentle holding.
  • If you're in a public place, gently pick him up and carry him to a quiet area until he calms down.
  • Don't "give in" to your child's demand because of a tantrum.

As much as possible, ignore tantrums

A special note to the panic-stricken parents of "breath-holders". Some children hold their breath until they turn blue. Do not shake your child to get her to breathe. She will resume breathing on her own.

Taking care of yourself during tantrums:

  • Acknowledge your own feelings of anger, guilt and embarrassment.
  • Never take out your anger on your child.
  • Ensure your child is in a safe place (crib or playpen) and give yourself a "time-out".
  • Take a few deep breaths.
  • If you are really tense, and feel you can't cope, ask for help.

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What to do after tantrums:

How do I handle my child's temper tantrums?

  • Remain calm.
  • Remove any objects (e.g. toys) that may have started the tantrum.
  • Observe your child. Some children respond to comforting afterwards, and others need time and their own space to calm down.
  • Give your child something quiet and easy to do.
  • Let her know you're glad she's feeling better.
  • Help him to put words to his feelings (e.g. "I know you were feeling really angry that you couldn't have the ball.").
  • Teach your child positive ways to deal with frustration and anger (e.g. "It's not acceptable to kick and scream to get the ball from Jesse. Next time come and talk to me about it").

How do I stop tantrums from happening?

  • Stick to your child's routine as much as possible - ensuring she has enough sleep and regular meals.
  • Let your child know what the rules are - set rules that are clear and simple.
  • Ensure you're not paying undue attention to the tantrum.
  • Use "time-outs".
  • Don't give your child a choice when there really is no choice (e.g. at bedtime, say "It's bedtime now", rather than "Do you want to go to bed now?") Other choices may be offered (e.g. "It's bedtime now. Do you want to brush your teeth or get your pyjamas on first?").
  • Teach a preschooler other ways of cooling down strong feelings (e.g. running around the yard).
  • Keep in mind what your child is capable of doing for his age and offer toys suitable to his age.
  • Avoid temper tantrums of your own. Children learn what they see. Adult temper tantrums may take the form of yelling, lecturing, hitting, pushing or pulling the child.
  • Learn to cope with stress in positive ways yourself and seek help with unresolved problems.

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For more information:

Region of Peel - Public Health
905-799-7700
Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
to speak with a Public Health Nurse

Caledon residents call free of charge at 905-584-2216


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Revised: Monday January 14 2013

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