What should I do when my child has a temper tantrum?
It's hard for young children to hold strong feelings inside. When they feel frustrated or angry, they often cry, scream, or stomp up and down. This is a temper tantrum. Temper tantrums are a normal part of your child's development. They usually begin around age 12 to 18 months, get worse between 2 and 3 years, then taper off after that, once children are able to use words to communicate their wants and needs.
How to handle tantrums
What you can do
- Try to stay calm. If you shout or get angry, it can make things worse. If you can't stay calm, leave the room. Wait a minute or two, or until her crying stops, before returning.
- Distract your child. Try a new game, book, or toy. Sometimes something as simple as changing locations can prevent a tantrum. For example, if you are indoors, try taking your child outside to distract her attention.
- Give your child a time-out. Take your child away from the problem and give her time alone to calm down. A good rule of thumb for a time-out is 1 minute of time-out for every year of your child's age. For example, a 4-year-old would get a 4-minute time-out. After the time-out is over, talk with your child and make sure she understands why she got a time-out and how to deal with it next time. Don't use time-out too much or it won't work.
- Ignore minor displays of anger such as crying, screaming, or kicking. Try touching or holding your child to calm her. Or try standing nearby without talking until she calms down. If your child is having a tantrum in a public place, take her home or to the car.
- Some behaviors are not OK and should not be ignored, such as
- Hitting or kicking people
- Throwing things that might hurt someone or break something
- Screaming or yelling for a long time
If these things happen, take your child away from the problem. Say firmly, "No hitting" or "No throwing" to make sure your child knows these behaviors are not OK.
What not to do
Never punish your child for temper tantrums. She may start to keep her anger or frustration inside, which can be unhealthy. Keep in mind that as your child grows, she will learn to deal with her strong emotions.
Do not give in to your child just to stop a tantrum. This teaches your child that temper tantrums get her what she wants. Also, don't feel guilty about saying no to your child. Set the rules and stick with them. When parents change the rules, it is harder for children to understand which rules are firm and which ones are not. Discuss with those who care for your child which rules are really needed and how to be firm about them.