Tantrums are very common in toddlers and younger children. They happen when children are frustrated and stressed.

Tantrums are very common in toddlers and younger children. They happen when children are frustrated and stressed. They can also be triggered when children are tired and hungry or feel jealous, frightened or unhappy.

Most young children between the ages of one and four have tantrums.  This is a normal part of growing up.  They don’t happen because you are a bad Mum or Dad.  They don’t mean your child is naughty. It is very common for children 1- 3 to have tantrums. Sometimes older children can have tantrums too and the tips outlined below could also help this age group. 

What to do when your child has a tantrum

  • Make sure they’re safe. You can’t stop a tantrum but make sure your child is safe. Stay nearby and if needed move them somewhere safe, quiet and calm.
     
  • Stand by calmly. Try not to show anger. Counting to ten and taking a few deep breaths might help. If you are at the shops, pick up your child and take them outside or somewhere quiet until they calm down.
     
  • Ignore the tantrum. If you give your child attention you might make the tantrum go on longer. Don’t try to talk to them, reason with them or shout or smack.
     
  • When they’ve calmed down comfort them and praise them for calming down.
     
  • Don’t give in to any demands they made before the tantrum started. Don’t worry about what other people think! It can be stressful if your child has a tantrum in a public place. Don’t worry if there are people watching. Stay calm and forget them – most people will be watching with sympathy as they’ve probably been through it too!

Ways to avoid tantrums

  • Think about when the tantrums happen. Does it usually happen around meal times? Your child might be hungry. Try to give them a meal before they get too hungry.  Does it happen when you change from one activity to another? Let your child know what you’re going to do next. For example “One more go on the slide then we’re going home.” This helps prevent the frustration that can trigger a tantrum.
     
  • Is your child worried or anxious about something? Your child may be worried or anxious about going to nursery, moving house or a new baby. Give your child lots of reassurance with love and cuddles. 
     
  • Try to keep things positive. Try not to give your child too many orders. Instead of saying "Tidy up your toys" say "It's time to tidy away your toys. Let's put all the blocks in this basket….." Try not to say "no" too often.  Instead of "No you can't go to the park" say "We can't go to the park today, but we can get your crayons out."
     
  • Plan ahead. Take some snacks and small toys when you go out and about.
     
  • Let your child help feed and dress themselves and offer some simple choices. Toddlers and young children can crave independence.  They may get angry and tearful if they are never given any choice or control. You can offer simple choices like "Do you want to play with your blocks or draw a picture?" or "Would you like an apple or a banana?"
     
  • Don’t give in to your toddler when they want something you don’t want them to have. This may lead to your child having little tantrums to get something they want.
     
  • Label your little one's feelings when you observe them, for example when you see that they are happy, sad, cross, disappointed or frustrated.  It will help them learn the word for that feeling or emotion so they are able to learn to express how they feel later.
     
  • Talk about and acknowledge their feelings. “I know you must be upset, because you wanted to play outside.  I know that can be frustrating”. If your child can describe how they feel with words, it can help them understand and manage their feelings better.
     
  • Make time for active play so your child can “let off steam”.  Go to the park, play in the garden or put some music on and dance.
     
  • Try to avoid stressful activities or places where your child tends to have tantrums.
     
  • Show a good example by keeping calm when things get stressful.  This will encourage your child to do the same.
     
  • Avoid harsh punishment, like smacking. This will only make tantrums worse.

Look after yourself

Meeting up with other Mums and Dads may help remind you that you're not alone. Your Family Information Service will be able to tell you what’s on in your area. You can contact them by telephone on 0300 123 7777. The Family Point website (External link) also has information on services and activities in your area.

It may also help to talk things over. Family Lives (External link) offers a confidential and free (from landlines and most mobiles) helpline (previously known as Parentline). You can call on 0808 800 2222 for information, advice, guidance and support on any aspect of parenting and family life. The (English language) helpline is open 9am – 9pm, Monday to Friday and 10am – 3pm Saturday and Sunday.

Hang in there – tantrums are normal in toddlers and happen less often after children turn four.