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.

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Can temper tantrums be prevented?

While elimination of all toddler temper tantrums is an unrealistic goal, lessening their frequency and intensity is a realistic one. Developmental pediatricians offer these suggestions:

  • Parents need to learn how to deal with their own frustrations and anger in an effective manner. Children learn by observation ("Monkey see, monkey do").
  • Have realistic expectations of childhood behavior for a given age range. Expecting a toddler to remain seated and sedate during church service or while in a fancy restaurant will only lead to frustration for both age groups.
  • Help your child find the proper verbal way of expressing their frustrations. ("I know you are mad that I won't give you the carving knife daddy just used, but you will get hurt. You will get an 'owie.'")
  • Seek out good behavior and reward it. "The carrot often works wonders when the stick commonly fails." Don't take what is commonly considered appropriate adult behavior for granted in the toddler age range. For example, "I am proud of you for waiting your turn to go on the slide. As a reward, you can go two extra times!"
  • Defuse a potentially volatile situation by advance notice. For example, "We have to leave the park after you go down the slide two more times." This gives the child the opportunity to assert some control over the situation and develop an alternative approach to a frustrating event.
  • Toddlers crave control. Allow simple choices during the day and compliment the choice (whatever it is.) For example, "Do you want some apple or banana at lunch? An appl, I like apples, too." Similarly, don't enter a battle you will lose. For example, "If you don't eat this apple, you'll have to sit at the table until you do." Almost every parent has learned that such a threat is unenforceable. Let the child win the battle; you will win the war.
  • Plan ahead and avoid known situations of conflict if possible. A trip to the market for one hour in the late afternoon is tough for both you and your toddler. Aim for the morning, with the pledge that he can go to the park if he behaves himself.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/6/2015

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