Whole Parenting Family

Toddler Tantrums Abound . . . Help!

Help! Who has or had a toddler that is emerging into tantrumhood? This novice mama is shocked to have her precious perfect son suddenly go on 8 minute crying fits for no apparent reason (or for a reason that usually wouldn’t ignite such fervor).

Dr. Sears and every available website has told me a variety of things including:

1) Acknowledge and identify the child’s emotion.

J has few words, so I try to provide them for him. “It seems like you are frustrated because mama wouldn’t let you hit her with a croquet mallet.” Or “I think you are angry because you don’t get to have more time outside.” I try to hug him, and say I understand, but that X is a part of life.

2) Ignore the behavior.

So long as he’s in a safe place, I try to pretend like he’s not screaming and screeching. And keep narrating whatever we’re doing, getting ready for bed, putting food away, prepping food, whatever. This can be difficult as my frustration levels rise, but so far I haven’t shouted back.

3) Don’t punish him.

Because he’s not specifically acting defiant, but more overreacting, most experts say not to punish the child or the behavior. Obviously when he wielded a croquet mallet in my general direction as I went to pick him up (after a “two minute” and “one minute” warning about playtime ending), he was firmly told that such behavior was no acceptable. But I’m not using time outs or corporal punishment at this point. Similarly, I’m not trying to coax him back into a good mood. It’s like riding out a storm.

Your advice, mamas & papas & friends of little ones? So far we’ve only been at home during these instances, but I presume the same response carries over into public.


  1. KateJ on October 4, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Ah, the beloved toddler stage 🙂

    I like the suggestions of Dr. Karp (The Happiest Toddler on the Block), to treat toddlers like little cavemen who can’t communicate their needs effectively. I discovered it when my middle son was a toddler. While throwing his tantrum I’d say, “Jakey’s mad, mad mad! Jakey wants to be outside, but Mama says lunch time.” Yes, it sounds stupid, but it is amazing how often it’d help break him out of his tantrum. What he’s looking for is an acknowledgement of his emotion, but the Dr. Sears language might be a bit too over his head at this stage. Simplicity is key.

    • Novice Natural Mama on October 4, 2011 at 11:10 am

      Fabulous. Simple words. Effective and comprehensible by the child. Thank you!! (And to give Dr. Sears his credit, I’m not sure he said to say complete sentences, that’s just my son’s overeducated mother aiming too high on comprehension. 🙂

  2. antonina31 on October 4, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    We are right there with you, Friend! Our little man is 16 months and throwing big tantrums, bigger than I remember the other two ever having at this age. Dr. Sears is right on the money, and I like the cave man thing. I ignore, do not pick up, and keep calmly repeating what we’re doing next or what he can have (instead of the thing he wants but can’t have). My big kids, of course, try to jump in and appease him, pick him up, etc…, but they’ve been told not to do so. 🙂

    When my frustrations rise, I actually just walk away from him and do something else, reciting prayers in my head to remain calm and steel myself to the cries. What works best, it seems, is for me to walk a little bit away, find something he likes to do, sit down on the floor and start playing without him. He’ll usually stop crying, come get a hug, and play with me, but sometimes he just keeps crying.

    Trust me, in the long run, you will be grateful you let him throw his fits now. They’re easier to tolerate at age 1 than at age 4!

    • Novice Natural Mama on October 4, 2011 at 5:08 pm

      Prayer is a great tool for strength and peace. Great advice!!

  3. Kelly Seidel on October 4, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Do you do sign language with J? It helps because the verbal center in the brain is developed enough to understand and communicate language long before the physical muscles in the mouth and tongue are capable of following suit. Simple words like milk, hungry, play, sleepy and other “needs” will help to allow some of the frustration of not being able to communicate calm down. Otherwise just ride out the storm until some words develop and you’ll be shocked how quickly he cools down again.

    • Novice Natural Mama on October 4, 2011 at 5:09 pm

      We do. Right now he only signs “more” “please” and “food/drink.” Good idea on communicating the other needs. Has that helped with your girls?

      • aphimama on October 4, 2011 at 10:26 pm

        I had every intention of using ASL with both girls, but our first was an early (and profuse) talker so we ended up only doing basic signs (which she still remembers) and with the second I haven’t done as much of the vocabulary as I’d like, but will be focusing on it more. She shows signs of really wanting to communicate and interact but is having difficulty putting syllables together.

        I actually used to teach preschool, and once had a little boy in my class who was the sweetest little kid – quiet, calm, giving, and so friendly – but he started having all out angry episodes of throwing things and ranting because he was so frustrated by not being able to speak. Once his words came around he was a completely different child again, right back to his sweet self. I think it must be so hard for kids to not have an outlet for all they learn so I even taught DD1 animal signs and the sign for her favorite items (“book” was her most popular sign by far) and it seemed to help her feel like she had some control and interaction with us.

        In general, I agree with above posts that just riding it out and maintaining a sense of humor about it all will get you through. Breathe, pray, and allow room for being human.

        • Novice Natural Mama on October 5, 2011 at 3:52 pm

          Wonderful suggestions. And helpful to hear about the little boy who found his words. I hope that J doesn’t act out from now until preschool!! He does have a handful of words already, so hopefully like your first, he’s an early talker.

  4. Tasslyn Magnusson on October 4, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Don’t be afraid to pick up your child, screaming, have every one stare as you abandon your overburden cart at (Target, Coop, etc) and leave. Because when you say, if this continues we will go to the car, you must, must follow through. It is hard to follow through – you’re tired, its easier to just wait, its easier just to buy that one toy. If you say it as a consequence, you must follow through. Or find a way for them to “earn that privilage” back – of course, that’s not quite where you are, but it’ll be coming.

    • Novice Natural Mama on October 4, 2011 at 5:09 pm

      Oh man! It’s amazing how parenting just keeps going and going, right? Easy parenting means poorly behaved children, in the long run.

  5. mary on October 4, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    julia is a bit older (18 mo) but we have definitely started making her sit on the stairs (corner, chair, any place she would rather not be) when she acts out. Yes, she is not able fully grasp why it is inappropiate to hit her sister or scream when she wants her shoes on, but she will figure out the result of those actions is sitting in a boring place with no toys. I want to get her in a habit of behavior that will eventually curb the tantrum before it starts. Now when i say, ‘don’t throw that, or you go to the stairs’ she stops 90% of the time. The sears method of riding out the tantrums by ‘ignoring’ it might be good some of the time, but I find that for me, it just seems to trigger more tantrums down the line.

    • Novice Natural Mama on October 4, 2011 at 5:11 pm

      He does respond to 3-2-1 countdowns to come to me when I call him. I’m actually not sure why, as I’ve never had to explain them, nor has he disobeyed. But if he’s really acting out, and not just responding, the association of having to sit somewhere else sounds like a good idea. Maybe when he’s just a hair older and can really sit somewhere without kinda slurpy sliding off.

      It really helps to hear everyone’s different experiences! Thanks, friends!

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