Little Kids

A Therapist's Guide to Managing Tantrums in Toddlers

How to identify triggers and implement strategies to manage toddler tantrums

A Therapist's Guide to Managing Tantrums in Toddlers

Getty / ilkercelik

Imagine going to a grocery store with your toddler. Everything goes well until a toy catches their attention. Your child insists on having it, but you say no.  In response, your toddler causes a scene by kicking and screaming. You start feeling overwhelmed as other shoppers glance your way, which adds stress to the situation.

If this scene feels familiar, know you're not alone. Many parents face challenges when it comes to managing temper tantrums in children. This article will teach you how to identify triggers and implement strategies to manage toddler tantrums.

Understanding Toddler Tantrums

Tantrums refer to episodes of emotional outbursts and displays of distress that toddlers commonly exhibit. During tantrums, they may express intense emotions such as anger, frustration, sadness, or disappointment. Tantrums can vary and may last 15 minutes before toddlers calm down. Toddlers can express tantrums in various ways:

  • Crying
  • Screaming
  • Kicking
  • Hitting
  • Throwing objects
  • Refusing to move
  • Breath holding

Tantrums will also decrease as your toddler grows and develops their language, emotional regulation, and self-control skills. Once temper tantrums continue past the usual age; it might be a sign that they're having trouble managing their emotions. For instance, tantrums in older children could indicate anger issues. Fortunately, parents and caregivers can help kids manage anger by educating them about their emotions, processing them, and coping with anger healthily.

Identifying Triggers

Young children throw tantrums because they're frustrated. They may also feel hungry, tired, or unable to get their way. They are also typical for children under the age of three because they're still learning how to communicate their needs. At a young age, they have yet to develop emotional regulation skills.

In addition, toddlers have a strong desire for independence and want to do things or explore independently. So, when faced with limits, they tend to react with tantrums.

mom comforting toddler son during a tantrum iStock

Effective Therapeutic Approaches for Managing Tantrums in Children

You can implement therapeutic approaches at home to effectively manage and prevent tantrums in children. These include helping improve their emotional vocabulary and encouraging positive behavior.

Teach them about emotions


Toddlers often experience big emotions but haven't yet learned how to express them in words. Use words that describe feelings when talking to your toddler. For example, when watching a movie, notice when characters express emotions. Picture books also teach them to label feelings such as 'happy,' 'sad,' 'angry,' 'hungry,' or 'tired'—model emotional expression by verbally naming your emotions and explaining why you feel them. For instance, you can say, "I feel happy because we're going to the zoo!".

Teaching them about emotions early on is vital because this helps enhance their communication skills and lets them tell you about their needs, desires, and concerns.

Reinforce positive behavior

Praise and reward your toddler when they engage in appropriate behavior or show positive reactions to stress, reinforcing that the behavior is valued. For example, you could praise them when they calm down after a tantrum and say, "I'm proud of how you calmed down." Avoid giving in to their tantrum because this teaches them that it is an effective way to get what they want.

Communication Strategies

Communicating with your child may be difficult during tantrum situations. Here are tips on how to talk to your child when they're frustrated.

Stay calm

Remaining calm can prevent the situation from escalating. It also shows the behavior you want your toddler to exhibit. Staying calm can be difficult, especially if you're overwhelmed, but remember that your toddler is not throwing a tantrum to upset you. However, they are still learning to express themselves and manage their emotions.

Use redirection


Redirection is an effective strategy that can help you guide your toddler's behavior when you feel a tantrum brewing. First, assess your surroundings for any trigger that is causing the tantrum. Perhaps they saw a toy in the store, but they can't have it. Use distraction techniques to redirect their attention. For instance, say, "Throwing a tantrum because you can't have a toy is not good. There are plenty of colorful boxes there; shall we name the colors?".

Offer options

You can avoid tantrums by giving your child options, which help empower them and provide a sense of control. After acknowledging their frustration, offer choices that are appropriate for the situation. For instance, they might throw tantrums because it's time to leave the playground. Their options could be leaving and enjoying a snack at home or leaving five minutes after using the slide.

Stay Consistent and Trust the Process

Managing tantrums involves teaching your child about emotions early, reinforcing positive behavior, and communicating calmly. If you're feeling overwhelmed, remember that tantrums are normal and are a phase that toddlers go through. You are doing great by wanting to help them get through their frustration. Stick to it and celebrate small wins on your parenting journey!


Michael is a licensed clinical social worker with a private therapy practice in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He specializes in helping children and teens with mental health concerns. He is passionate about providing effective and compassionate care. He is an advocate for mental health awareness and is the founder of Mental Health Center Kids, a website that provides resources and support for parents, teachers, and mental health professionals who care for children and teens.

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