Toddler Tantrums

Tips in this article were adapted from The Happiest Toddler on the Block®

Whether or not you’ve officially entered “the terrible twos,” your toddler may well have already thrown a temper tantrum…or three.

Where Do Toddler Tantrums Come From?

Toddler tantrums are completely normal…not a sign of behavioral issues. They are just how your child’s immature brain processes emotions. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about them. You can avoid, say, 8 out of 10 tantrums once you start to view your toddler as a little cave person…and speak in the primitive language she understands…“Toddler-ese!” [Read More: How to Talk to Toddlers]

Cavemen Threw Temper Tantrums, Too.

Our Stone Age ancestors were opinionated, tenacious, and not very verbal. They bit each other when angry, made a mess when eating and hated waiting their turn. They were stubborn, distractible, and impatient…sound like someone you know?

Watching your toddler “evolve” is like watching 5 million years of human achievement…in fast-forward! You’ll observe your child walking, then talking, then problem-solving in the span of just a few years.

Many parents try to console their flailing, angry tot with logic and reason…but often that only makes things worse. That’s because even calm children often struggle to understand our long-winded explanations…and when they’re angry or frustrated, they may not be open to hearing even simple soothing comments. But, here’s the good news, it’s often pretty easy to help defuse your toddler’s tantrum with a much more basic way of speaking.

At What Age Should a Child Stop Having Tantrums?

These kicking-screaming-biting-throwing fits peak at 18-24 months then subside a little after the second birthday only to come back in full force around 3½ years.

“Cave-Speak” May End That Toddler Tantrum

When your child is very upset, I recommend you first acknowledge her feelings for at least 30 seconds using this simple, primitive, caveman-like lingo: 1) speak in 1-3 word sentences, 2) use about one third of their emotional energy in your tone of voice (try not to be reserved, be extra-expressive with gestures of your face and arms) and repeat what you are saying over and over a few times. This approach is the best way to settle your little Neanderthal and help her be more open to hearing your thoughts and suggestions.

Yes, it will probably feel a little over-the-top the first bunch of times you try it, especially if anyone else is listening. But, honestly, it is not too different from how you might respond to a friend who is as very, very upset (as upset as a toddler!).

And, once you see how well it works it will start to feel more and more natural.

Example: How to Stop a Toddler Temper Tantrum

It’s raining outside and your backyard is a muddy mess. Your 18-month old is standing in his pajamas pulling at the door screaming, “Mommy! Mommy! Outside! I want outside!”

You might be tempted to directly answer with a logical response like, “No, honey. It’s raining.”

But, it is unlikely that would really get the tantrum to subside.

Now that you know Toddler-ese, you might gesture dramatically—pointing to the door—and say, “You want out, now! Out! Out! Out! You’re bored, bored, bored!”

Repeat it a few times, with the about one-third of her emotional vigor (enough so she feels heard, but not so much she feels mimicked or made fun of) and your child will likely start to recover in under a minute.

Here’s the thing: How you say your words mean much more to your child than what you say. When you convey emotion, your child perceives empathy. He’ll think, okay. My mom really gets me.

I call this connecting with respect. When you speak Toddler-ese you are meeting a child on his or her emotional turf, and acknowledging feelings, which is a basic human need.

Once your child is no longer banging the door down, you might reward their giving up of the outburst by offering an appealing alternative, like “Come with me! Come on! Let’s play with your cars!!”

He’ll be likely to go along with your distraction and soon forget about his mini-meltdown. And, you will feel like you handled the situation with love and good parental limits.

Final Thoughts on Toddler Tantrums

For more advice about how to handle toddler tantrums—with real-life examples!—I recommend checking out my book, The Happiest Toddler on the Block, which gives parents the tools they need to prevent toddler tantrums and boost cooperation. You can learn more here.

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.