Temper tantrums are one of the biggest challenges that parenting has to offer. Both blood pressure and stress levels skyrocket in response to a screaming child. It’s incredibly difficult to know how best to handle tantrums from a 2-3 year old! Until you understand the reason, and have some practical strategies for dealing with tantrums in toddlers, you might even feel like it’s your parenting skills that are to blame.
This is not the case!
Tantrums are part of a toddlers normal development. If you have a 2-3 year old, it’s something you will see! They can happen for a whole range of reasons. Your toddler might have a temper tantrum to get your attention. It might be to avoid something that they don’t like. Or it might be your toddler’s way of venting their emotions like anxiety, frustration and stress. These are emotions that they can’t yet name- they don’t understand them or what they can do about it.
All of these are normal! However, it’s important to have a consistent plan for dealing with tantrums in toddlers. And yes, I know, this is so much easier said than done!
The goal as a parent is to teach your child the positive alternative. These 9 strategies for handling tantrums will show you exactly how to teach your toddler the positive behaviour that will (eventually) replace the tantrum. Sound appealing?
Teaching any new skill takes time, repetition and patience. Try to be as consistent as you can and you will see the payoff!
But be warned- once you start to implement these strategies, the tantrum is likely to get worse before it gets better. Your toddler is escalating the behaviour to see if you will give in.
Once you know this, it’s easier for you to stay strong. It’s like a slot machine. If you give in to a temper tantrum, your toddler will learn that this is the way that works for them to get what they want, and they will use it more and more.
If your child is a little older, check out my 3 Key Strategies for Dealing with Tantrums in School Aged Kids.
So what are the strategies you can use for dealing with tantrums in toddlers?
1. STAY CALM YOURSELF
This is a vital point. Don’t give the tantrum more power than it deserves!
The first step in dealing with a temper tantrum from your 2-3 year old is to model calmness to them. As difficult as it can be, try not to let your negative emotions show. Keep your face and body language neutral, use a calm and quiet tone, and be firm.
By simply doing this one thing, you will already start to diffuse the situation, and will remove a lot of the power from the tantrum.
2. KEEP YOUR LANGUAGE SIMPLE AND CLEAR
When you are dealing with a 2-3 year old who is having a temper tantrum, they will not be in a space to listen to you! It’s not the time to rationalize with them or to try to explain things to them. In fact, trying to do these things feeds into the tantrum and gives it more power than it deserves.
Reduce your language as much as you can. Use short, simple sentences that are to the point and make sure you just say one thing at a time. This is a major factor in dealing with a toddler’s tantrum effectively.
3. USE THE POSITIVE ALTERNATIVE INSTEAD OF ‘NO’ OR ‘DON’T’
Using words like ‘no’ , ‘stop’ or ‘don’t’ can have the opposite effect from what you want.
When you say, ‘no hitting,’ your toddler hears the word ‘hitting’ which can even reinforce the negative behaviour!
Instead, use the ‘positive alternative.’ You might say, ‘gentle hands’ to encourage them not to hit. Or, you could say, ‘quiet voice’ if they are shouting.
This strategy is so powerful in dealing with the tantrum of a 2-3 year old because you are teaching them what to do. In a very simple and positive way, you are telling them what behaviour you expect. You are giving them the behaviour that is acceptable in this situation- the positive alternative.
4. USE THE ‘WHEN…THEN’ STRATEGY
The ‘when…then’ strategy is one of my absolute favourites. When you use it well, you can even avoid a tantrum in the first place.
Let’s say, for example, that your child wants ice-cream but you want them to tidy up. By telling them, ‘when you tidy up, then we’ll get ice cream’ you are telling them that you haven’t said ‘no’ to ice-cream- it’s coming… but there’s something else to do first. This keeps the situation positive and helps to motivate your child.
And it doesn’t have to be ice cream. Pick any activity that your child is motivated by, and use this as the ‘then’ to motivate them. For example, ‘when you eat your lunch then you can play with your cars.’
If you are dealing with a 2-3 year old in the throes of a temper tantrum, you can still use this strategy. You could say, ‘when you calm down then we’ll go outside to play.’ You have stated very clearly what your expectation is; don’t negotiate further. You have given the choice to your toddler to choose the reward or not.
5. IGNORE OR DISTRACT
For a 2-3 year old having a tantrum, deal with it by distracting them if possible. This is a very simple strategy but it can work really well. It minimizes the tantrum and stops it in its tracks. This is also the best option for kids whose developmental stage is lower. Simply point out something else they might be excited in- make your voice enthusiastic and shift their attention away from the problem.
However, if you have given a simple, clear ‘when…then’ choice with something to motivate them, and you have been clear, consistent and firm, then you may need to ignore the tantrum.
Remember that giving in to your child’s demands in a temper tantrum will just mean that they will use this method again next time (remember it’s like a slot machine!)
You can ignore a tantrum by moving away (but stay in the same room) and by not giving any eye contact to your toddler.
It’s amazing how quickly temper tantrums can stop cold when your child realizes they are not getting attention for it. But be prepared- when you ignore it they are likely to ramp it up a few notches to see if this will be enough to make you crack. Stay calm but firm and do not give your toddler the attention they want.
You do still need to make sure your child is safe. If they start to engage in any harmful behaviours (e.g. banging their head), move them to a safe place like a mattress but try not to give them eye contact while you do this.
Stick it out! The second your child calms down, go straight to them and give them really specific and positive praise for calming down. This bit is so important! You are teaching them that they will get your attention for positive behaviours, but that you are consistent and firm and you’re not going to cave in!
6. LABEL THEIR EMOTIONS
Labelling emotions builds your child’s Emotional Vocabulary. This is absolutely crucial not only for dealing with your toddlers’ tantrums, but for all of their life. Emotional literacy is a protective factor for your child. Poor emotional literacy is linked to early dropout from school and engagement with youth justice!
Don’t underestimate this massive area!
When you label your toddler’s emotions, you are giving them ‘emotional coaching’. This means that you are teaching them how to identify their emotions and also what they can do about it. Labelling emotions is the first step to understanding them- this is something that every single human needs to learn how to deal with. And what you learn about this when you’re just a toddler is massively important!
Here are some common emotions to teach:
You might say, “you look really frustrated about that. Why don’t you take a break.”
Or, “you were so patient! That was great!”
“You seem angry. You could take a deep breath.”
Make labelling emotions part of your everyday conversation.
7. TEACH CALM DOWN STRATEGIES
This is a strategy for dealing with toddler’s tantrums that happens outside of the actual tantrum time.
If you have a 2-3 year old, part of dealing with tantrums is actively teaching them what to do instead. Make it fun. Role play together so your toddler practices what you’re talking about. Problem-solve it together.
One good idea is to practice this with stuffed toys. “Oh no! Bear is mad!! What can he do?”
You might suggest, ‘He could take a deep breath and think to himself “I can do it! I can calm down.”‘
This won’t stick after just a one-off discussion. Talk about it often and practice it together.
Talk about characters in TV and in books. Check out these children’s books that teach positive behaviour. Use the situations that the characters’ face to teach your toddler positive thinking and ways to calm down. It’s amazing how much kids can learn from a character facing a similar problem. Most of the books include scripts that children can use for themselves when they’re in a similar situation. Especially if you help them to apply the characters’ lesson to their own lives.
You are slowly building your child’s emotional literacy. As they learn about emotions and how to handle them, this will gradually influence how they behave when they are frustrated, anxious or mad.
Building emotional literacy helps you in dealing with tantrums in toddlers… but it’s a crucial life skill for your children’s adult lives, too!
8. GIVE THEIR POSITIVE BEHAVIOR LOTS OF ATTENTION
Once you’ve spent all this time teaching ‘positive alternatives’ it’s important to motivate your toddler to make the right choice.
You can do this by ‘catching them being good’- make a big deal out of their positive behaviour! Gaining attention is a major function of a temper tantrum, so it’s important to give this attention to the behaviours you want to see more of.
Jump in early and praise them so they learn that they will get attention for positive behaviours instead of negative ones. At the start, praise them for even the smallest improvement- actively look for things to praise them for.
If they wait even a little longer than they usually do, say, ‘wow you were so patient! That’s great!’
If they don’t scream when something goes wrong you can say, ‘I love that you are being so calm!’
By praising these positive behaviours you are reinforcing them. When you do this you should see a huge improvement in your toddler’s behaviour!
9. LIVE OUT LOUD
I’ve talked about emotional literacy and coaching. But YOU are the biggest role model for your child.
A great strategy for you to build these skills in your toddler is for you to ‘live out loud.’
Basically, this is about thinking aloud, labelling your own emotions and your strategies for regulating yourself. Normally these thoughts happen internally so kids miss out on seeing the adults around them use positive self-talk and coping strategies.
This is a good strategy for older kids too but the earlier you start, the better!
For a 2-3 year old, you might say something very simple such as, ‘Hmm I feel worried. I need to tell myself, I can do it.’ Or ‘I feel sad about that. I’m going to read my book/ have a cup of tea/ sit by the window. That will make me feel a little better.’ Model simple calm down strategies: ‘I feel mad. I need to calm down. I’m going to take some big breaths.’
As your child gets older, your Living Out Loud will evolve and become more complex. This is a really fantastic strategy to equip your child with the well-developed emotional literacy they will need for life.
AND THAT’S IT!
Dealing with tantrums in toddlers is tough!
Ultimately, you can’t force another human to do anything that they don’t want to do, even if it is your child. Don’t get locked into that battle- you are unlikely to win.
Instead, keep remembering that you are not just stopping the tantrums, teaching your child new skills. You are coaching them, building their emotional literacy, and teaching them the boundaries in their behaviour. When you use these strategies consistently and don’t give in to the tantrum, you will teach them positive alternatives and you will see results!
Remember that it will take a lot of practice- both for you as a parent and for your toddler. Kids need a huge amount of repetition to learn new things. And although it takes time and a huge amount of energy, it will be so worth it!
Never forget that the most important thing is that your child knows how much you love them. This relationship is fundamental to handling any tantrums or behaviour problems.
I hope this helps you in dealing with tantrums in toddlers.
You might also enjoy:
- 3 Key Strategies for Dealing with Tantrums in School Aged Kids
- 11 Incredible Children’s Books That Teach Positive Behavior
- How Play Promotes Child Development: an Ultimate Guide for Parents
- How to Establish a Bedtime Routine for Toddlers and Get ‘YOU’ Time!
- 40+ Best Free Apps for Toddlers To Have Fun and Learn
- 5 Easy Tips from a Speech Pathologist- How to Encourage Toddlers to Talk