Help Tame Toddler Tantrums

The toddler stage can be filled with adorable milestones -- hugs, dancing, and sloppy kisses, to name a few. But it’s also the time when your little one begins shouting no, throwing toddler tantrums (and food!), and doing exactly what you tell her not to do.

Why does this happen? It’s difficult for children to keep strong emotions in when they’re young, so to express their frustration, they scream, stomp, and cry. Fortunately, this stage of child development doesn't go on forever. Toddler tantrums usually taper off after 3 years of age, once children can use words to communicate their wants and needs.

So how do you discipline, establish good patterns, and nip bad behavior in the bud in the meantime? The key is to be consistent when encouraging good behaviors. Here, the parenting advice that will set you up for success.

Give her options
At this age, your child probably feels as if she has no say in her life. After all, she doesn’t get to decide what she has for dinner, whether or not she has to sit in the car seat, or what time she’s going to play in the park.

To help give your toddler a sense of control, provide acceptable options she can choose from throughout the day. Ask her whether she’d like to have grape or orange juice, or wear the red or blue shirt, for example. Giving your tot a say in these types of things will help decrease the chance of a toddler tantrum erupting in situations when she really doesn’t have a choice -- such as having to hold your hand when you cross the street.

Stick to a schedule
Toddlers operate best when there’s a consistent routine, so aim to keep mealtimes, naptimes, and bedtimes at the same time each day. And remember that kids this age don’t have a good grasp of time, so saying, “We’ll leave for the zoo in 10 minutes,” means nothing to your tot -- and might result in tears when she loses patience. Instead, put the wait time into toddler terms: “We’ll go to the park in the time it takes to sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ three times.”

Acknowledge your toddler’s point of view
The next time your child is upset, get down on her level -- literally -- and try to see the situation from her point of view. Acknowledging that she’s upset will help validate her feelings, and may stop a toddler tantrum before it starts.

Try saying something like, “I know you want to stay at the playground because you’re having such a great time on the swings, but we need to pick up your brother from soccer practice. We’ll come back to the playground tomorrow.” This may also help your tot hit a child development milestone as she starts to understand that there are rules (such as not abandoning her brother at soccer practice) and that just because she has to end a fun game today doesn’t mean she can’t play it tomorrow.

Use humor
When all else fails, resort to silliness to tame toddler tantrums. If your child is putting up a fuss because she doesn’t want to get into the car, say, “It looks like you want to keep playing with your toys, but we need to go and pick up food for dinner. Should we waddle to the car like a penguin or hop like a bunny?” Then start jumping toward the driveway, encouraging her to join you. Chances are her desire to do something silly will override her desire to keep fighting you.

Keep in mind that toddler tantrums, talking back, and other methods of testing the limits are a normal part of child development. The best strategy is to be calm and consistent as you respond to the outbursts -- and to dole out plenty of praise when your tot does exhibit good behavior.