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Dear Debi,
I have a 2-year-old son who has been throwing tantrums lately. When he wants something, he whines, and to be honest, I don’t know what to do. Is this behavior normal, and what can I do to help him?
Sandra Osuna
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Anticipate situations that could trigger tantrums
  • Remain calm, ignore it, & don’t give in
  • Give positive attention & praise for appropriate behavior
Expert Advice
Ann Corwin, Ph. D
Ann Corwin, Ph. D
Parenting Consultant
Most parents think tantrums are a calculated, deliberate, planned, embarrassing display by their child in order to keep them from enjoying themselves. They’re not! Tantrums are a response to a feeling that children don’t understand. Parents think that children have tantrum because they’re expressing something they’re feeling. The reality is that children are feeling something that they don’t understand, so they’re trying to understand it and it manifests itself as a loss of control. Tantrums come from children not being able to manage and understand how they feel. Children do it in order to gain control once they feel they’ve lost control. It’s a very purposeful act.

Tantrums can sometimes be prevented, but when they’re not preventable, make sure that children aren’t hurting themselves or anyone else and then let them have their tantrums. You should observe their environment and daily routine and watch for the “Why’s” of tantrums. Does he tantrum right before naptime? If that’s when they seem to occur, then you might want to try and put him down a little earlier so that he’s not overtired. Is the tantrum before mealtime? If so, then the cause of this might be too many chances and choices. If young children are given too many chances and choices, they can’t handle that, so they lose control and go into a tantrum. The triggers of tantrums are going to be different for every child so parents should be good observers and figure out what sets their child off.

A tantrum is a form of communication, so keep in mind that children trying to communicate something but they’re not doing it in an appropriate way. Stop communication with them once they’re in a tantrum. Do as little touching as possible during a tantrum as long as they’re not hurting themselves or others. But the key is to teach your child to stop himself without you getting involved. Parents should provide their children with their comfort objects, whether it be a stuffed toy, a blanket, a pacifier, etc., because this is a symbol of self-comfort and self-soothing. You can’t expect them to calm themselves down when they’ve lost control so you give them something that they associate with making themselves feel better.

Staying calm is key. This can be very difficult for many parents so my advice is always for parents to remind themselves, “My child is telling me ‘I’ve lost control and I don’t have the language to manage the way I feel.’ ”

If children start to throw a tantrum and they’re in danger of hurting themselves or others, sit down and hold them with their back to your chest and let the child have the tantrum. If you’re out in a public place, it helps to have a stroller so that they can have a safe place to tantrum.

As soon as they start to de-escalate, you start to whisper to them. Whispering helps calm yourself down and calm children down. Pick a phrase to say to them as they’re coming down from their tantrum that helps them recognize that they’re not as frustrated. For example, say, “Good job! You’re not so angry anymore.” This labeling and praise shows them what it feels like to be able to stop themselves.
Child Care Provider Comments
Andre Wiseman
Andre Wiseman
Father of two
When my child throws a tantrum in a public place, I will take him out of the situation. I then get down to his level and look him in the eye and talk to him. If he starts to throw his body in the tantrum, I hold him closely until he stops. I used to look at people when their kids were throwing tantrums, but I now have empathy for them.
Cathy Agnew
Cathy Agnew
Cares for her grandchildren, mother of two
Parents have to consider their child’s naptime and lunchtime before making decisions to take their children out. The child’s routine has to be consistent. Don’t go to the grocery store or mall during their naptime or lunchtime. It’s not going to be fun. When kids are screaming and crying during a tantrum, you should stay calm and talk to them in a soft voice to calm them down.
Sonnia Corzo
Sonnia Corzo
Child care provider for 6 years, mother of four
Tantrums are normal for two-year-olds. The only thing to be concerned about is your child’s own safety and that he isn’t hurting anyone else. For example, you never want a child to throw himself on the pavement causing injury. Next, find out why the tantrum is happening. It’s usually because we aren’t meeting the child’s needs. A lot of it has to do with routines. Routines help children regulate their own bodies and pace.

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