Temper Tantrums

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Quick GuideParenting: Learn to Be a Better Parent

Parenting: Learn to Be a Better Parent

How should parents handle temper tantrums in toddlers?

Over the years, parents and psychologists have developed a series of suggestions to help deal with temper tantrums. These include

  • Don't get sucked into the emotion of the situation. Remain calm and unemotional. If possible (for example, at home) tell the child you can't understand him when he behaves that way and leave the area. Inform him that when he calms down you will talk with him about what he wants. Feeding into the situation by trying to deal with the out of control child reinforces the behavior.
  • Try to distract or redirect the child. Many parents observe that this strategy works better in the young toddler; the older child is less likely to be "bought off."
  • Discipline should be promptly applied, brief, proportionate to the "crime," and rendered without emotion by the parent. The classic recommendation for "time-out" of one minute per year of age has well stood the test of time. A quick verbal explanation of the infraction is reasonable ("You are going into time-out because you kept pinching your brother. We don't pinch. Pinching hurts.")
  • Realize that temper tantrums are a way a child is testing your limits in addition to a way of venting frustration. If he discovers that he is more likely to succeed in a certain setting (such as at grocery-store checkout line), he will persevere in this location. Parents may be very frustrated by their toddler's temper tantrums in a public venue; take heart in the fact that almost all the other adults have similarly been the recipient of their child's wrath in a public locale.

Should children be punished for having temper tantrums?

Temper tantrums in 2- to 4-year-old children are considered an essential part of normal child development. By the time they are less frequent, children have substantially increased their expressive verbal skills. In addition, they have developed alternative and more successful techniques for achieving their goal. Such maturation requires that parents provide proper role modeling for their toddler. If parents raise their voices, throw objects, or use physical violence, the child will see this as an example of how adults handle frustration.

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