Health Library: ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

Techniques for Taming Tantrums

Your little one is having a kicking, screaming mega-meltdown in the frozen-food aisle. And you're sure everyone in the market is thinking, "Why is that child carrying on, and how come the parent isn't doing something to stop it?"

Toddlers that age are still learning to verbalize their feelings. They can become frustrated when they can't express their emotions.

Young children whose "wants" are being blocked are apt to lose control, especially when hungry, tired or over-stimulated. Parents in a chaotic public setting, focusing on the task at hand, are less likely to notice shifts in their child's mood. This means they may miss the chance to defuse matters before a full-blown tantrum breaks out.

Precautions to take

Preventing a tantrum is much easier than stopping one. So before you step out with your child:

  • Try to plan your outing for a time when crowds are few. That helps you avoid long lines and reduces embarrassment if it all falls apart anyway.

  • Ensure you and your child are well fed, comfortably dressed and rested before you leave.

  • Offer some run-around time before you confine your child to a shopping cart or stroller.

  • Bring toys, snacks or books to entertain and distract if need be.

Even with preparation and planning, tantrums are bound to happen at times. When they do:

  • Make sure the environment is safe if your child is kicking, flailing or throwing things. Remove the child if sharp corners, breakables or other objects pose injury risks.

  • If the child is safe and the tantrum is not disturbing others, ignore the tantrum.

  • Try the distraction technique, offer the child a different object or take the child to a different aisle in the store. By the time he or she gets to the other side, the child has often forgotten what he or she wanted in the first place.

  • Don't worry about other people's reactions. Focus on your child. Pick actions based on your child's unique needs and temperament. Some youngsters respond to being held or to a parent's calm, repetitive words. Others do best with watchful waiting.

  • Stay centered, take deep breaths and remember: This too shall pass. Most tantrums last less than five minutes, and many last less than a minute.