Terrible Twos: How to Handle Temper Tantrums

Gather any group of parents of toddlers together physically or on the internet, and very soon, the topic of discussion turns to the terrible twos temper tantrums and what to about them. and if you were to listen to their conversations you would find that there is a wide variation in opinions about the course of action. If only each toddler came with a child behavior checklist.

Toddler standing with arm up in the air. She is having a temper tantrum. Her face is angry and she is shouting.

Photo by Kiana Bosman on Unsplash

With some understanding of human development, we can all move past spanking or punishment to achieve the goals of a more peaceful home life. Parents cannot eliminate tantrums as this seems to be a stage of self-assertion, albeit, an unacceptable version. 

The Skinny about Temper Tantrums

All’s Right in the Beginning: When a baby is born, they begin their interaction with the outside world. Up to birth, all their needs were taken care of in the womb- nourishment, right temperature, and safety. At the moment of their birth, they begin their interaction with the world. Their crying is a signal of discomfort, and it is the parents who need to figure it out. Is the baby wet? Is it time for a feeding? Does the baby need to be burped? Is the baby seeking physical comfort? Over time within the first year, the baby, smart individual, begins to manage certain events for his or her own comfort. Indeed, parents respond quickly to soothe every physical need. 

Why do Temper Tantrums Happen?

There is a tipping point in which the demands are no longer centered on just physical needs but emotional and intentions as well. Parent experience that first “No,” as the baby’s self-assertion becomes solidified. While we celebrate this independent step, our lives are never the same afterward. A toddler’s life is very self-centered. Their wish is their command and tantrums seem to be the preferred method of manipulating their world. A toddler does not yet have the capacity to put words to their emotions and therefore gain control over their feelings. Nor does the toddler have the ability to reason out solutions as older kids or adults do.

Couple this with an emotional meltdown with the brain being highjacked by an area that demands instant relief. It is a fact that it takes at least 20 minutes for the chemistry in the brain to allow rational thought after an emotional episode such as a tantrum. Any discussion with a toddler during a tantrum is out of the question as they cannot listen or reason at that moment. Every parent has experienced their unreasonable, illogical demands. “The sleeves on their shirt are too long. It is NOT time to go to daycare. Mummy is a monster who is trying to hurt them.”  Whatever!

So what we do as parents is critical to the well-being of our child and to our success in handling the situation.

Short and Sweet Advice About Tantrums

Punishment is very unfair, as well as ineffective for our toddlers. Even timeouts are not advantageous because the toddler has a limited capacity for thinking through the situation and reflecting on what has happened. 

So, what can a parent do? First of all, it is crucial to understand that this is a stage of growth, and through thoughtful response, a parent can support growth in their child. 

Keep Them Safe: If a toddler is getting so out of control that they are hurting themselves or others, you can hug them and reassure them that you will keep them safe and then wait until they are ready to calm down. You can ask, “Are you ready now?” so that they control when they are released. 

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

Label the Emotion: It is essential to label the child’s feelings. Sometimes it can be anger that they did not get their own way. Other times it can be jealousy. Perhaps the toddler is too hot, too cold, too tired, or reacting to allergy season. By labeling their emotions, you are starting the process for the child to understand what is happening. You can say something like this, “I know you are angry and do not want to tidy up the toys. Let me know when you are ready and I will help you.”

Use Neutral Language: Talk to your child in a calm voice. Periods of silence are best while you wait for the child to regain control. You can say something like, “I can see that you are angry that you did not get the toy you wanted. I will wait till you are calm to talk about that.” Do not chastise your toddler or blame them for their outburst. At this point, they are definitely not in control of their emotions.

Wait for Order to be Restored: Please do not attempt to have a rational conversation while the child who has not had at least 20 minutes to regain control of themselves.  Often the parent needs to take the child to a secluded area, away from outside influences as the toddler will unfairly play to an audience. So if you are in a shopping mall, you may need to retreat to a quiet corner, or your car for a calming down period. 

Repair the Relationship: When the child is calm, discuss what happened. You can say, “Wow! I am glad that we have the sweet ______ (child’s name) back. Now we can talk about what happened. I am sorry that we cannot afford every toy you want. Is that the toy you want for your birthday present? Let’s put it on the list.” It would be best if you tried to think of a solution that will solve both sides of the issue while retaining the dignity of the child.

More Information or Help

The Pixar movie “Inside Out”, made in 2015, is incredibly helpful in explaining emotions to children. When your toddler is calm, you can watch snippets of it together. A discussion of the emotions in the scene will be illuminating. Most likely this is too long to show the entire movie to your toddler at once and it is rated PG due to the scary nature of some of the movie. Here is a commentary about the movie by Mommy Poppins that may help you use snippets with your toddler.

Or you can use storybooks about emotions to initiate discussions. There are children’s books about hitting, tantrums, jealousy, controlling anger and many more undesirable situations.

Getting More Assistance

Most parents will need more background information along with some concrete examples of what to do in different situations. Then you can become proficient in dealing with tantrums. Here are some websites with more information, specifically about toddler tantrums.

 Find the answer to your questions.

  1. Raising Children Network: This extensive network has very valuable information about avoiding tantrums, as well as what to do when your child has a tantrum.


2. Kids Health: Handle the tantrum differently, if you know what is behind the outburst. Use these strategies.


3. Proven Steps for Temper Tantrums: You can learn 7 steps for more peaceful parenting!

Temper Tantrum – How To Deal With Toddler Tantrums (7 Proven Steps)

4. Mayo Clinic: Glean important background information and strategies to use.


A Deeper Investigation

For other parents, you may need even more information and perhaps some workbooks so that you will feel prepared to make the necessary changes to handle temper tantrums. Maybe you do not have much background in dealing with young children. Or you may have had poor role modeling in your family and want to break out of some ingrained habits that do not clearly work. Or you may have a child who is stuck in this behavior, and you need a more in-depth insight. 

Your goal is to be the best parent to your toddler, and we all know that the tantrum stage is challenging. 

How to Talk so Little Kids will Listen: This book covers many situations that will sound familiar to you. You will discover some scripts you can start with and then improvise with your child. Part 1 describes how to developing a loving relationship.

Part 2 gives you some specific responses for hot button topics such as shopping, sleeping, or clean up to name 3 out of 14 scenarios.

The Happiest Toddler on the Block: Harvey Karp is a professional, yet he presents information in a way that all parents can understand.

Learn about what a toddler’s world is like from the first part of the book and then acquire some strategies to deal with stressful situations.

Now Say This: Has your toddler ever left you speechless? This book will give you the background so that you will know what to say so you can make any situation better.

Learn from the experts who teach parents in their clinic how to deal with common issues.

Turning Tantrums into Triumphs: This carefully-researched book provides advice to parents in a very understandable form

Learn the strategies suggested by Pamela Li to quiet the turbulent waters in your home. With the play book as your guide, you will be able to triumph.

Timeless Advice for Parents of Young Children: This book is written from the wisdom of grandmothers of the Hannah Perkins Center, all of whom are early childhood professionals.

The advice is steeped in years of experience and focuses on emotional growth of toddlers. Yet it is written in clear understandable language and often in story format.

Toddler 411: Toddler 411 is a book full of advice that is arranged in short bits of information that is easily located. Tantrums are not the only topic. Toddler 411 covers many conditions with the most up to date medical and practical advice.

It is written by Dr. Ari Brown, official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Denise Fields, parenting expert on Oprah and in the Wall Street Journal.

With knowledge, you can cope with this explosive phaseToddler Temper Tantrums.

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1 thought on “Terrible Twos: How to Handle Temper Tantrums”

  1. Deepthi says:

    My baby is 9 months old and I’m a first time mom. Sometimes she shouts on top of her lungs if she doesn’t like something on tv, when she wants to be held or when I stop her from doing something. I ended up shouting on her twice already and I feel so guilty for being so rude. But I don’t really know how to deal with her as I’m the only one who takes care of her and the house day and night as my husband will be out of house most of the time on work. Please help how to deal with my baby tantrums.

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