How to Stop a Tantrum Fast

You may not be able to avoid tantrums, entirely, but you can minimize their frequency and intensity.

During the toddler years, your child is constantly learning to control his impulses, his bodily functions, and his behavior. Sometimes, the ability to maintain self-control breaks down, resulting in a tantrum. You may not be able to avoid them, entirely, but you can minimize their frequency and intensity. To tame your child's outbursts:

  1. Practice prevention. Making sure your child is well-rested and not unduly stressed can prevent many tantrums.
  2. Loosen the reins a bit. Make sure your toddler has freedom and time to run and play without worrying about making a mess or being stopped from engaging in fun activities. Save your "nos" for really important issues.
  3. Stay calm. When your child does have a tantrum, he needs you to remain in control. Try gently, but firmly, holding your child to keep him from hurting himself or others. Move him away from the source of his anger and give him a chance to recover.
  4. Distract him. Before a tantrum reaches full throttle, your child may be responsive to a change in scenery or other distraction.
  5. Try humor. For a mild tantrum, try defusing the situation with humor. Just be careful that your child knows you're not making fun of him.
  6. Help undo frustration. If your toddler is frustrated because he can't, say, put on his shoes, help him master that art so that he can feel a sense of accomplishment instead. In cases of safety, acknowledge your child's desire to, for example, climb a ladder, but restate your rule firmly: "I know you want to climb up high, but that's not allowed." Offer an alternative, if possible: "Later we can go to the park and you can climb the slide ladder."
  7. Don't give in to demands. Public tantrums cause some parents to give in simply to reduce embarrassment, but this response will only serve to ensure that your child will repeat the tantrum the next time you're out. Ignore what others may say or think in such cases, and focus on your child. As calmly as possible, state your rule and get on with business: "You will not get what you want by crying and kicking. When you calm down, we can talk about it."
  8. Take a time-out if needed. If you're afraid of losing control with your child, turn your back and count to ten, once you're sure that he cannot harm himself or someone else. Don't walk out, which could terrify a child who is already feeling out of control. Simply say, "I'm getting very angry and I have to turn away for a moment until I'm calmer."
  9. Discuss the tantrum. After your child has calmed down, talk about what made him so upset. Don't dwell on the outburst, however. Instead, assure him of your love with a warm hug, and join him in a pleasant activity.
  10. Don't take your child's behavior personally. Don't allow yourself to feel guilty or out of control because your child has had a momentary breakdown. Though having your child shout "I hate you" can be hurtful, it's important to keep in mind that your child's actions are not so much directed at you as they are simply a show of his own frustrations.

From The Parents Book of Lists: From Birth to Age Three, by the editors of Parents magazine with Marge Kennedy. Copyright © 2000 by Roundtable Press and G+J USA Publishing.

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