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SKIP - Ministry of Social Development

Most small children have tantrums – they are a natural part of growing up.

Tantrums are caused by frustration and stress that children can’t deal with. Often they happen because children can’t express themselves using words, or they are tired, hungry, bored, uncomfortable or over-stimulated.

You can help your child learn how to manage their feelings by ignoring tantrums

Try stopping them before they start

It is almost impossible to stop a tantrum once it gets going, but sometimes you can stop them happening by:

  • trying not to rush things
  • not giving too many choices
  • doing something relaxing together like going for a walk or reading a book together
  • letting your child know there is going to be a change coming up – for example when it’s almost time to go home
  • They can find waiting for things hard.

When they’re in full flight

You can’t stop a tantrum. Make sure your child is safe, stay near and carry on with other things. Don’t try and talk to them, reason with them or discipline them. It’s hard, but don’t pay any attention to them.

Show that you’re not upset. Although you might be feeling really angry, try not to show it.
If they are in danger of hurting themselves, move them to a safer place. If you’re in a shop, leave the shopping and go to a quiet place.

When they calm down, comfort them, but don’t give in to the demands they were making before they had the tantrum. Praise them for calming down.

Try and stay calm, getting angry yourself doesn’t help.

Other strategies

  • Think about when tantrums happen. Is it just before dinner? Your child might be hungry, or they might be tired and want reassurance, just when you’re busy with something else.
  • If the supermarket is a really difficult time, try to change the time you go, think about shopping without your child, or buy a bread roll or apple that they can chew on as you go. If they’re being good, tell them and give them a little treat at the end.
  • Practice turning a no into a yes. Instead of saying "no you can’t have that" say "yes, you can but once we get home".
  • Give choices that are realistic. Instead of asking them which shirt they want to wear, give them a choice of two.

Be consistent.


Tantrums aren’t bad behaviour, they’re small child overload. Most children have them, many have them once a week and some have one a day.

Talk to other people who know your child well, or who have had similar experiences with their children. This could be a friend, someone from your child’s early childhood centre, or another parents.

Both parents need to be consistent about managing behaviour. Talk about what’s happening and agree on how you will both manage your child’s tantrums.

Take big deep breaths.