How to Deal with Toddler Temper Tantrums

How do you deal with toddler temper tantrums?

They are, hands down, one of the most frustrating things as a parent.  If your toddler is anything like my toddler, they yell, scream, throw themselves on the floor, wail, kick, stomp, slam doors, and more.  As a parent, I am left with the challenging task of figuring out how to deal with toddler temper tantrums, while I am about to have a grown up temper tantrum.

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Being a parent is hard, am I right?

When your first kid is born, you feel this overwhelming sense of love and responsibility.  You look down at those sweet little eyes and know in a second that you would die for this perfect gift God gave you.  You can’t imagine ever getting frustrated with them, much less being angry towards them.

But then they get a little bigger.

They start by telling you no.  They become sassy and defiant.  And that precious angel you adore so much begins to throw full out fits.

Sometimes, kids get creative in their protests.

A friend of mine just wrote on Facebook that her son is pulling his pants down and peeing on the floor in an act of defiance towards her right now.  That’ll right there will make you want to lose your mind!

So how do you deal with toddler temper tantrums?

Well, sometimes, I resort to some pretty childish behaviors myself in an attempt to get my kids to listen to me.  And they don’t work.

But on my best days, I do better.  I be the mom I always imagined that I would be, and I rise above their testing behaviors.

How do I do it?  Well…

Start with self-care.

On the days where I have taken care of myself, I am so much better able to deal with toddler temper tantrums.  I’m not talking about getting a night out on your own or getting a mani/pedi.  This kind of stuff is not in the cards for me.  I’m talking about the little stuff.

This is going to look different for each mom.  For me, if I can wake up twenty minutes before my kids do, sit with my cup of coffee and Bible, and mentally prepare for the day, I am a much better mom for the rest of the day.  If I cleaned my kitchen up the night before so I come down to a clean kitchen, my day starts out on the right foot.

But, if my kids wake up ahead of me, my kitchen is a mess, and I am immediately launched into getting cups of milk and managing squabbles before my first cup of coffee is even brewed, I am a overwhelmed, frustrated, prone-to-yell mom.

But even on the days when I have set myself up for success, I still get frustrated with my kids’ behavior at times.

Children are great at pushing our buttons.  They throw giant temper tantrums, ask for things incessantly, ignore us when we ask them to do something and bother their siblings relentlessly.

They are also sweet, kind, adorable, witty and delightful.  But that’s another post.  This one is about the bad behaviors.  The ones that make us want to pull our hair out, like temper tantrums.

Here are some suggestions to try next time you have to deal with toddler temper tantrums.

Take a breath.

Give yourself a second to calm down.  This one second may stop you from over reacting.  This one second may also allow you to see your kid for what they are… a small, probably frustrated, maybe scared, likely overwhelmed, child.

Think about the back story.

Did your child have a rough night of sleep?  Are they hungry?  Did they have a ton a sugar and are crashing now?  Are they getting over a sickness?  Are they coming down with something?  Are they out of their routine?

All of these things can contribute to your toddler’s temper tantrum.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t deal with your child’s fit?  Of course not!  Bad behavior is bad behavior.  But it is important to recognize these types of extraneous things that may be affecting your child’s behavior.

Set your toddler up for success.

Once you identify the things that tend to throw your child off, you can plan better for the future.

Does your toddler tend to throw more temper tantrums when they are hungry?  Give snacks periodically throughout the day.  Choose healthy, child friendly snacks such as cheese, fresh fruit, crackers, hard boiled eggs, or trail mix.  This will help stave off the crash kids get after eating fruit snacks or sugary cereal.

Does your toddler throw more fits when they are out of their routine?  Let them know what they can expect for the day.  Use simple language like, “Okay, first we are going to have a snack.  Then, we’ll go to the grocery store.  After grocery store, it is nap time.  After nap, play toys!”  A simple schedule like this can really help even a young child understand what their day will hold.

Consider why your toddler is throwing a temper tantrum.

Behavior analysts call this the function of the behavior.  Basically, it is the motivation behind your toddler’s temper tantrum.

There are four main reasons that toddlers throw temper tantrums.  Well, there are actually a million, but they all boil down to these main motivations.

  • Attention: Is your child throwing a fit because they want attention?
  • Escape: Is your child throwing a fit because they are trying to get out of something?
  • Tangible: Is your child throwing a fit because they want something?
  • Control: Is your child throwing a fit because they want to control the situation?

After determining why your toddler is throwing a temper tantrum, you are able to deal with toddler temper tantrums in the most effective way possible.

Here is a guide on how to treat each of the four main motivations:


You can tell a toddler is throwing a fit for attention when they look at you frequently throughout the tantrum, or wait for your reaction to their antics.  Another way to tell is if they follow you while throwing their fit (anyone else’s kids do this?  It drives me crazy!).

So, how do you deal with toddler temper tantrums when the toddler wants attention?

During the Tantrum

Do not give them attention.  Look away.  If they are safe, leave the room.  Do not talk to them.  This means don’t encourage them to calm down, and don’t tell them to stop.  Don’t say anything to them.

When they start to calm down, praise them!  Say things like,”I love how quietly you’re sitting now!”  If they begin to act out again, go back to ignoring them.

Now, the first few times you do this, your child is going to pull out all of the stops on their tantrum.  The tantrum may get bigger and worse than it has ever been.  This is because your toddler is thinking, “Wait a minute.  This has always worked in the past!  I must not be throwing a big enough fit.  I’ll try harder.”  Don’t give in!  Stay strong, and keep ignoring your sweet little one.

The fastest way to end an attention based tantrum is to ignore it.  Once your little love discovers that their tantrum is not giving them the attention that they want, they will stop throwing tantrums for attention.

Before the Tantrum

If your child is prone to throwing tantrums for attention, give them lots of attention when they are being good.  I know, you never want to talk to your toddler when they are finally doing something on their own, but this is the perfect time to give them attention!  Behavior that brings about what they want is more likely to be repeated.

If a tantrum brings attention, they will throw more tantrums.  If playing quietly brings more attention, they will play quietly more often!


Is your toddler throwing a temper tantrum because they want to get out of something?

If your child throws a fit every time you say, “Okay, let’s clean up your toys/get your shoes on/wash your hair/etc.” then they are throwing an escape tantrum.

So, how to you deal with toddler temper tantrums that are motivated by escape?

During the Tantrum

Do not let them escape whatever caused the tantrum.  This would make them more likely to throw a fit in the future over the same thing.  If you said,  “Let’s get your shoes on!” and your toddler started to tantrum, put their shoes on them.  Not wearing shoes is not an option at this point.  If you said, “Get your shoes on,” make sure you follow through and the interaction ends with your child having their shoes on.  You need to break the mental connection that they have made that says, when you throw a fit, you get out of this.  Consistency is key.

Before the Tantrum

Reward systems for doing the undesired task can really help your child be more compliant.  For example, my son hates getting his hair washed.  But, if he knows that he will get bubbles in the bath after his hair is washed, he is much less likely to throw a fit.


Does your toddler throw a huge temper tantrum when they see something that they want at the store?  Or when their brother has the toy that they want?

How do you deal with toddler temper tantrums that are motivated by wanting something?

During the Tantrum

Do not give the child what they want.  This would teach them that throwing a fit is the right way to ask for what they want.  Instead, wait until the child is calm, and them encourage them to say, “Can I have that?”  If it is something that they can have, cheerfully give it to them while praising them for asking so nicely!  If it is something that they can’t have, tell them why they can’t have it but offer them something else that they like as a way to encourage their behavior of asking nicely.  For example, “Son, we aren’t going to buy a Batman car today, but when you get home you can play with your Batman cape.  You’re doing a really great job using your words to tell me what you want.”

Before the Tantrum

Always, encourage your child to use their words to tell you what they want instead of a tantrum.  Use simple language like, “You can say, I want that toy mom.”  Then praise them for using words and respond to their request (which can mean telling them yes, no, or how about something else).

There are usually signs that this type of behavior is coming.  If you see sister pick up a toy that brother typically wants, quickly give him a similar object to play with.  Or, have the kids work out a negotiation that they can both agree to.  This teaches awesome skills that will last a lifetime.

When you are out, try your best to avoid your toddler’s triggers if you can.  If you’re at Target, steer clear of the toy aisle.   If you can’t avoid the triggers, give your child something on your terms.  For example, bring their favorite toy and pull it out right when you are approaching the item that they always throw a fit for (ex. gum in the line).  As an alternative, I always let my kids pick whatever they want from the grocery store.  They get one item!  And, since we start in the produce section, they almost always pick fruit.  Tricky, right?  But, since they chose the fruit, when they ask for the candy bar later, I can say, “You chose those yummy strawberries, remember?  Put them on the belt for me!”  This is usually enough to avoid a temper tantrum in line for us.

Did you notice how I redirected my little one by telling her to put the strawberries on the belt?  A last tip is to use distraction when possible to get your toddler focused on something else.


Does your child just seem to love to control everything?  Do they want everything to be their way, on their terms, in their timing?  I have a little one like this.  It is a challenge.  We’re talking YEARS of fits over naps, baths, wearing socks/coats/long pants, and on and on.

So, how do you deal with toddler temper tantrums that are motivated by wanting to control?

During the Tantrum

Do not give in.  See a theme here?  Stay strong, and follow through with your direction.  If possible, give your child who loves to control a choice.  “It is time to get your shoes on!  Do you want your Crocs or your tennis shoes?”  This allows your little one to make a choice and control part of the situation.  We give our toddler choices as frequently as possible because it lets them be their own boss (which is exactly what they want!).

Before the Tantrum

Give your child choices about everything.

“Do you want your peas on this part of your plate, or that part?”

“Do you want the pink cup or the blue cup?”

“Do you want to pick up your cars first or your stuffed animals first?”

“Do you want to go down the slide 1 more time before we go, or 2 more times?”

Now, this suggestion isn’t necessary for every child.  Two of my three children do not need lots of choices.  They are generally compliant, and do not throw fits that are motivated by control very often.  If I gave them lots of choices, it would just complicate my day unnecessarily.  But if you have a child who frequently throws fits because they want things their own way, this is a great way to give them that control on your terms.

To Summarize

Your child is throwing a temper tantrum because they believe that this is the best way to communicate with you.  It is your job to teach them a different way to communicate with you.  Using the suggestions listed above will show your toddler that throwing a fit does not get them what they want.

And one last comment.  Rome wasn’t built in a day!  Your child likely has months or years of practice at this.  They may even be tougher than you (I know one of mine is!).   But consistency is the key.  If you are calm and consistent in your redirections, you will teach your child to use appropriate behavior to get what they want.

So, how do you deal with toddler temper tantrums?

Be calm, be patient, and be consistent.

Start with self-care.

Set your toddler up for success.

And most importantly, treat each tantrum based on the motivation behind it.

When you have to deal with toddler temper tantrums, take heart, friend.  This is a challenging time, but we’ll make it through!

Looking for some more parenting help?

Check out this post on how to talk to your toddler so they actually listen to you.

And, here are a few of my favorite books on dealing with children’s challenging behavior.

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