Dealing with tantrums

Tantrums are a normal part of a child’s development from about the age of 1 to 4 years. They are short periods of angry outbursts which can include crying, shouting and throwing. They are normal because children who are starting to walk and have more control over their actions are learning how to be autonomous beings. Learning to be autonomous means learning how to choose your own actions and saying no to things you don’t want to do. We saw in the section on understanding emotions that anger often occurs when your goal is blocked and part of the function of anger is to make you try harder to achieve that goal.


When a young baby finds that pulling on a string no longer makes music come on, they pull harder and make an angry face. Anger is useful in making you try harder when you can actually affect an outcome.


But young children are quite powerless in many ways and there are many outcomes that they cannot control. For example, they cannot just get any toy they see in the shop; they cannot eat as many sweets as they would like. So, the young child’s frustration often boils over and they have a tantrum. The tantrum is a combination of frustration that they can’t do something and protesting to you to try to affect your behaviour. Tantrums are also more likely if your child is hungry, tired, or feeling ignored.


Tantrums are often distressing for the parent. Having your child scream and shout can make you feel helpless, angry, or embarrassed, especially if it occurs in a public place.

  1. Don’t panic – try to stay calm. Remind yourself that the tantrum will not last forever and will run its course. Also, tantrums are normal, and all parents have to deal with them.
  2. Validate your child’s emotion initially (eg “I know you are cross because you want to pour the juice”).
  3. Remind your child of the rules (eg “Please don’t make a noise in the restaurant”).
  4. After initial validation and boundary setting, ignore the tantrum. Calmly continue with whatever you were doing (eg talking to someone, cooking a meal, etc). You can say “I will talk to you when you are calmer”.
  5. Keep ignoring the negative behaviour (eg your child shouting). Don’t give them attention. This is OK, because you validated their feeling initially, and you don’t need to continuously validate it.
  6. Give warm attention for any positive behaviour (eg they stop shouting). Give them warm praise for that (eg “Oh that’s very good, you are managing to be quiet – well done!”).

It is generally a good idea to give positive praise for good behaviour rather than focusing too much on negative behaviour – ‘catch them being good’ rather than ‘catch them being bad’!

Taken from the My First Emotions Parent’s Guide. 

My First Emotions is a multisensory early childhood resource designed for little learners from birth to three years to understand and manage emotions. You haven’t seen an educational resource like this – it’s new, fun and innovative. Use play, stories and music to encourage nourishing emotional development in the comfort of your own home.


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