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©2011 by Deborah Beasley ACPI CCPF

How to handle toddler temper tantrums has always been a hot topic among parents and experts. Kicking feet and flailing arms can fray a parent’s nerves and flip the balance of your day topsy-turvy. When you are standing in line at the super market and your toddler is throwing a royal fit over a piece of candy you want a solution that best meets the needs of the whole child. Don’t lose your cool!

Here are three ways to successfully meet the emotional needs of your toddler, model internal self-regulation, and transform those terrible tantrums.

1. Transform tantrums by being attentive to your toddler’s needs.
Your toddler’s strong reaction is the measure of his internal frustration or confusion over whatever is happening to him. These reactions are common toddler behaviors. He needs your attention and gets it the only way he knows how.

Attention seeking behaviors at this age are never about cognitive pre-planning; rather, all behaviors come from underlying unmet needs. Gaining a better understanding of what your child really needs will help you address the problem appropriately and restore his sense of feeling safe and cared for once again.

ACTION: Ask yourself what is driving the behavior? Finding the unmet need is the first step to filling it. Is your child tired, hungry, and overwhelmed by the tantalizing sights and sounds of the supermarket, playground, or other environment? It’s easy for little minds and bodies to confuse being tired with being hungry. Adults do that all the time. The sweet red taffy just beyond his reach has now pushed him beyond his level of tolerance.

2. Transform tantrums by calmly acknowledging your child’s feelings.
Toddlers do not have the ability to accurately verbally express how they feel and often will let you know through their emotional upset and crying.

ACTION: You can hep diffuse difficult behavior by ‘describing’ or ‘naming’ what your toddler is feeling. This action will let your toddler know you care about what he feels and you are capable of helping him feel better about it.

EXAMPLE: “I see how upset you are because you want the candy so much.”

Or, “I can see how angry you are right now. I understand how hard this is for you not to have candy.”

Or, “Wow, this is a noisy place. I don’t thing you like all this noise right now. Help mommy finish shopping so we can go somewhere quiet and have fun.”

3. Transform tantrums by creating a positive response to a negative reaction.
It is more productive and effective to provide your child with choices of what she can do or have, instead of focusing on what you do not want her to do or have.

ACTION: Seperate the child from the cause of the upset while lending emotional support. This might mean heading down a different isle, redirecting her attention to something else, or, in extreme cases, leave your basket at the customer service desk while you and your child get some fresh air and a change of scenery. Always reassure your child they are going to be okay.

EXAMPLE: (Describing) “We have been out for a long time this morning, Sam.”
(Positive choice and outcome) “Pick out your favorite cereal so Mommy can get you home quickly and you can have your nap.”
(Reassurance) “Next time we won’t be so long.”

Points to Remember

* A toddler’s ability to regulate their emotional and impulsive reactions is experience limited. They are navigating their rapidly expanding world for the first time and can become easily overwhelmed and frustrated.
* The goal is to help your toddler master his internal and sometimes unruly emotions that lead to less than desirable behavioral displays. Your toddler will need a very patient caregiver to help her learn these lessons well.


How a toddler eventually internalizes self-regulation will depend upon the models they have available from a loving family, friends, pre-school or other caregivers to the community in which they live. All young children need nurturing guidance and lots of patience. Parents who respond to tantrums in calm, consistent, and positive ways meet deep emotional needs in their children. Meeting needs at this level secures your toddlers positive self-esteem.

Once you have mastered all these skills, parenting through the tween years should be a piece of cake! Or, will it? See you then. 🙂