3 Ways to Tame Toddler Tantrums

I have 10 years of experience in early childhood development and elementary education. I’ve been able to manage large groups of young children for extended periods of time and persuade them all to simultaneously bend to my will. But nothing compares to the realities of having a two-year-old of my own.

My little Goose is independent, curious, talkative, spunky, and most days with her are absolutely amazing! But occasionally… Something doesn’t go exactly the way she wants and a tantrum ensues. Crying, flailing, whining. Assuming she’s not hungry or tired, I use these 3 methods to tame her toddler tantrums.

1. Give Choices

Part of turning two is exploring your autonomy. When Goose is having an outburst, I give her the illusion of choice so that she still feels in control of her behavior. Here are examples of choices I’ve had to give in the midst of a tantrum:

  • Your hands are dirty. You can wash them by yourself or I can help you do it.
  • We need to eat dinner now. Which chair would you like to sit in at the table?
  • We’re not going to turn the TV on. Would you like to listen to music or play with blocks?
  • Ice cream is a treat, not a snack. You may have applesauce or grapes if you’re hungry.
  • It’s time to get in bed. Would you like Mommy or Daddy to read with you tonight?

The outcome is always her cooperation, but she’s satisfied feeling a sense of responsibility for her choice.

2. Loss of Privilege

This is simple and straight forward. When Goose’s behavior is unacceptable, she loses a special privilege. In most cases, that privilege is her 30 minutes of daily tablet time. It’s amazing how quickly she can pull herself together when she’s reminded that her tablet time is on the line.

If a privilege is revoked, be sure to explain why it was taken and what behaviors will earn it back.

3. Timeout

We all want a break some days. A toddler often needs to be removed from a situation and given the opportunity to reset. If you want to try timeouts, make sure you:

  • Escort your child to a designated, uninteresting timeout area. We use a corner in our hallway (that’s currently covered in toddler hand prints).
  • Set a timer. Kids respond to auditory cues so use the same alarm tone each time. The general rule of thumb is one minute per year of life. Goose is two so she gets a two minute time out. It’s the perfect amount of time for her to cool down. If your child needs a little more time, there’s no shame in adding another minute.
  • Talk about it after the timeout has ended (don’t speak to your toddler during the timeout, give them space to chillax). Why was she upset? How can she respond differently next time?
  • Give a hug! Even if I’m worked up, too, the thing Goose needs most in her difficult moments is a compassionate reminder that we’re on the same team.

Let me finish by saying…

I will ALWAYS try to have a conversation and reason with Goose first. It’s important for me to understand what has upset her and find a logical solution to her problem. If she’s not quite ready to be rational, then I resort to one item from this list. Not all of them, just one.

Also, yelling is counterproductive. If you have a worked up child, the worst thing you can do is add to their inner chaos by yelling. I try to keep calm in these moments by consciously using a soft voice, even whispering if I can.

As annoying as it can be, sometimes your little one needs to let off some steam. Choices, loss of privilege, and timeouts work the majority of the time, but there are some instances when they just need to get those negative feelings out of their system. And that’s fine, too.

The same way that you become frustrated or angry, so do toddlers. The biggest difference is they have less ability to monitor and control their emotions. They are constantly learning and relying on us to guide them to appropriate actions. So take that fit as a teaching opportunity and use my tips to help tame those toddler tantrums.

Want more for toddlers? See my potty training tips, fun apple activities, and advice for surviving outings!

tame toddler tantrums

22 thoughts on “3 Ways to Tame Toddler Tantrums

  1. Love this post! Love the examples you provided. I am a social worker and worked at the department of children’s services. We had numerous trainings on effective disciplinary tactics that are healthy for child development. These were all great examples of that!

  2. Whew, well I needed this tonight. My little one just turned 4 and while I’ve been through this stage with 2 others, she is totally different. Maybe its because I have less patience, than I once did. Tomorrows a new day and I pray, I can remember and give this a shot. Maybe offering choices will resonate with her.

    1. Little ones are tough! Hate to say it, but they’re very egocentric and strong willed. My parents always tell me that I was a stubborn child and I think that I turned out ok 😉 Hang in there! Sending lots of empathy and patience your way!

  3. I like your intro paragraph here, NOTHING compares to the reality of having a two-year-old of my own. My daughter just turned two, and my son is 12 weeks. It’s a wild ride over here!

    1. Thank you! I know all about having a sassy (but lovable) kid. Fortunately, my second is a bit more easygoing. Hopefully, your second will give you a break!

  4. Great post! Life with kiddos can be tough. As a milspouse who continuously deals with deployments I have had to learn so many ways to deal with toddler tantrums. You gave some really good tips in this post!

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