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Temper Tantrums

Dean M. Clifford, PhD. & Dee Oseroff-Varnell, PhD

Every parent has had a moment when a toddler suddenly screams, kicks or drops to the floor. Usually this is when a child is angry or disappointed and is too young to say so. As your child grows older, you can teach better ways to express strong feelings. All people get angry! It’s OK to be angry, but not OK to act on anger when we feel out of control. The key is not the anger, but how we express it. As parents, we should not :

  • Ignore our child’s anger
  • Make the child feel bad for having angry feelings
  • Punish the child for being angry
  • Lose our temper
  • Give in just because our child is angry

No matter how embarrassed you may be, never give in to the tantrum – or your child learns that the tantrum works! If you say, "I’ll give you a treat if you get quiet," or "All right, I’ll get you one this time!" your child has learned how to push your buttons. Be firm and don’t give in , even if you have to leave the scene with your child.


Make sure your child gets rest and exercise.

  • A tired child is more likely to "lose it."
  • Let your child know about changes or special events before they happen. If children know what to expect, they feel less stress.
  • Tell him what you expect when going to a store or restaurant.
  • Warn her and give her some time before she must change activities (go to bed, come inside).
  • Be sensitive to your child’s feelings. At special events (a new baby, another person’s birthday) spend extra time with him.
  • Watch for early signs of anger and take action.
  • Don’t expect too much from your child. For example, sharing is very hard for young children.


  • Try not to show any expression. Try not to respond.
  • If you are at home, leave the room for a few moments (if your child is not hurting herself or others). Stay where you can hear her.
  • Use "time-out" if you need to. Use one minute per year of your child’s age. (2 minutes for a 2-year-old). Let him come out when he is calm. If he’s not calm, the time begins again.
  • If necessary, hold your child to keep him from hurting himself or others. Say something like, "I know you’re angry, but I won’t let you hurt yourself or others."
  • If your child has a tantrum in public, pick her up and carry her to a private place or to the car. Make it clear you will not go back until she is calm.
  • Use words to express your child’s feelings. Suggest a way your child can calm herself. For example, "I know you’re really angry that it’s time to go home. Maybe you’d like to hold your favourite bear for a while until you feel calm."

- Dean M. Clifford, PhD. & Dee Oseroff-Varnell, PhD.

Reprinted with permission of zerotofive.org (www.zerotofive.org )