Wednesday 26 October 2016

Top tips for coping with your child's tantrums

Tantrums can happen at the most inopportune times and can be difficult for parents to cope with. Olivia Willis suggests what to do when meltdowns occur

Published 06/05/2015 | 01:00

When a toddler throws a tantrum at home it can be easier to contain, but when you're out and about - and under the watchful gaze of others - it's a lot harder to figure out what to do.
When a toddler throws a tantrum at home it can be easier to contain, but when you're out and about - and under the watchful gaze of others - it's a lot harder to figure out what to do.

The toddler years are tricky ones. Young children in their pre-school years are grown enough to have their own ideas and wants, but their little emotions haven't kept the pace. It can often be a tough time for parents and there is no easy way to manage toddlers especially when they're in full tantrum mode.

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So why do toddlers have tantrums?

Toddlers have not fully developed their frontal lobe which means they often can feel overcome by big feelings. This can be very difficult for toddlers to communicate as they cannot fully express themselves. They simply can't function normally. They want unreasonable things, and are unsatisfied with your attempts to give them what they want. When tantrums kick off they need you and they can't get out of their state without your help.

Out and about

When a toddler throws a tantrum at home it can be easier to contain, but when you're out and about - and under the watchful gaze of others - it's a lot harder to figure out what to do. I've been the red-faced mum looking kind of sheepish as my two-year-old goes into a tail spin. Parents need to stay calm and not check over their shoulders anticipating a judgmental glare from a passer-by. Remember that strangers are just that - strangers. They don't really matter. Anyone who actually has kids is just thanking their lucky stars that it's not them in the hot seat today. As for the judgmental ones? Who cares? Put them out of your mind, and concentrate on your little one.

Tips to handle public temper tantrums

Stay calm

I know it's easier said than done, but you have the ability to control your emotions and restore the peace. You can't bring your toddler to their senses by raising your voice or making threats. Getting mad will only escalate their emotions. If you're tense, they will pick up on it, and it's going to rise them even more.

Create a diversion

Try to engage with them or interest them in something else. It's a good idea to have all sorts of distractions in your bag, like toys or books. Another diversion is to try and get them involved by asking for their help. Children have pretty short attention spans - which means they're usually easy to divert.

It always helps if you sound really excited and animated when you do it. It gets their mind off the meltdown and on to the next thing. Channel your inner Hollywood!


This will likely be the last thing you feel like doing when your kid is getting their freak on, but it really can help. Hugs will help make your child feel secure and let them know that you care even if you don't agree with how they are behaving. They sometimes just need a safe place to get their emotions out.

Stand your ground

If you're out shopping and your toddler is screaming because you passed by super-frosted sugary cereal without stopping, don't make a U-turn just to calm them. Instead, tell them firmly that they have to stop yelling. If they keep it up, it's time to use your most powerful weapon: the exit. Changing the venue really can change their behaviour.


There are situations that are trying for kids. For some it's sitting through dinner at a restaurant, for others it's staying quiet in a waiting room. Situations like these are asking a lot of your toddler who can become easily bored. Before you head out, offer them a reward in exchange for good behaviour. There's no harm in offering them a little pre-emptive 'bribe'. That way if a tantrum starts you can gently remind them about the 'treat' you discussed. However, it's not a good idea to offer this for the first time under duress in the middle of mayhem.

Olivia Willis is the co-founder of, an Irish family website with information for parents, daily blogs, reviews and expert family advice.

Stay tantrum-free yourself


Dealing with tantrums can be enormously draining and stressful for mum and dad. here are some ideas to help keep things in perspective:


• Have a clear strategy for how you’ll handle a tantrum. Concentrate on implementing your devised plan when the tantrum occurs.


• Agree among yourselves that it will take time for change to occur. Your child has some growing up to do before the tantrums will stop.


• If it enters your head that your child is doing this on purpose or is trying to get at you, they’re not. Children don’t deliberately plot to throw tantrums – they’re stuck in a bad habit or just don’t have the ability right now to cope with the circumstances.


• Try and keep your sense of humour. If you can see the funny side of the tiny human flipping like a fish on the supermarket floor it will help get you through it. However, don’t laugh at the tantrum  because if you do, it might encourage your child. It could also upset them even more if they think you’re laughing at them.


• Any dirty looks that come your way; ignore them.

Irish Independent

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