Tantrums are one of the most troubling part of toddler-hood. Fortunately, there is an effective way to lovingly halt most toddler tantrums. . . in under a minute! For those familiar with some of the Happiest Toddler techniques (in particular Toddler-ese and the Fast-Food Rule) these tantrum-taming skills should sound quite familiar. They’re as close to a magic wand as you’ll ever get!

How to Stop a Tantrum: 

1. Connect with respect.

When your toddler starts to lose it, the first thing you should do is connect with respect. Squat down to his level and echo back a bit of his feelings by using the Fast-Food Rule and Toddler-ese. (Remember to repeat back their feelings with about one-third of your tone of voice and gestures to reach your child’s sweet spot.) Practice this several times on small eruptions before trying it out on a major outburst. Amazingly, at least 50% of the time this simple step alone will quell tantrums in seconds. 

Parents who respond by immediately voicing their adult views or distraction are like impatient fast-food order-takers who jump right to their message (“You owe $5”) without repeating the order. That’s why answering your 2-year-old’s whines for a pre-meal cookie by narrating her feelings (“Cookie! Cookie! You want cookie! You want cookie, now!”) provokes less crying than jumping right to your message, “No, honey. No cookies before dinner!”)

2. Give your message.

Once your child begins to quiet, it becomes your turn to give a message (“But nooo, sweetheart. You know the rule: Cookies are after dinner.”). 

3. Offer a distraction or win-win compromise.

After you give your message, you can encourage your child to be even more cooperative in the future if you take a moment to feed her meter with a little distraction or a win-win compromise. 

Distraction: Once your child starts to calm, offer a bit of fun (like attention, a hug, a snack, or playing the boob). Playing the boob, for example, shows your tot that even though she had to give in to you this time, there are plenty of other times when she gets to be faster/smarter/stronger than you.

For example: Point at her shoe and beg her, in a pitiful voice, to give it to you. When she hesitates, throw your hands down like you “give up” and say, “Okay, you win, you always win me.” A few seconds later, beg for her shoe again and let her reject you again. Kids love when we’re boobs, and they get to reject our silly requests. 

Offer a win-win compromise: Right after you squelch a tantrum, help your child save face by offering her some type of compromise. This little deal shows your toddler that even though she lost the argument you have respect for her, and she can still hold her head up high.

For example: “Cracker . . . cracker . . . You want cracker! You want cracker . . . right now! No crackers now, honey, but after your carrots you can have more crackers. Should you get two or three?” 

What to Do If the Tantrum Gets Worse:

What if all your good communication is met with even louder bawling? Then it’s time to offer a hug, solve the problem, or do a little kind ignoring… 

Offer a hug.

Your toddler may just be having a bad day . . . we’ve all been there. Try offering your upset child a hug…but be prepared to duck (just in case your irate little tyke takes a swing at your nose). Some parents soothe their flailing furious toddlers by giving a bear hug from behind—restraining the arms—while they repeatedly whisper in the ear things like “You’re really, really mad.” “You say, ‘No, no, no!’ ” 

Solve the problem.

Occasionally, if you’re really in a time crunch, it’s okay to give in. For example, you might say to your upset 3-year-old, “You’re so sad! You really want a cookie . . . now! The rule is no cookies before dinner . . . but you were so helpful picking up your toys this morning, Mommy will bend the rule—a tiny bit—and give you one cookie. Do you want it in a napkin or on a plate?”

Kind ignore.

If your uncivilized little friend is still flailing on the floor, most of the time your best tactic will be to lovingly give her the cold shoulder—kind ignoring. Here’s how:

  • Use Toddler-ese one last time . . . then lovingly say you’re leaving for a little while. Be caring, but matter-of-fact. Avoid threats, sarcasm, or shaming. Kind ignoring makes it clear that you understand, but you’re not giving in.
  • Pretend to be busy doing something for 20 seconds.
  • If your child starts to calm, quickly turn to your tot and offer some Toddler-ese, a hug, and a nice time-in (“You were really sad. . . . You wanted the ball and Mommy said ‘No!’ But come on . . . let’s play with your trains. Do you want to be Thomas or Henry?”).
  • If your child is still crying after 20 seconds of being ignored, return and echo again how she’s feeling. Many kids get so upset that they need us to do kind ignoring two to three times before they start to settle. 

A few spirited kids just won’t stop crying even after you come and go a few times. They have trouble giving in because it hurts their pride. If your child is one of these stubborn kids, you may need to ignore him for two to five minutes until he starts to calm. Keep a watch on him out of the corner of your eye or in a mirror.  

Once he stops crying and starts to play with something, just sit on the ground near him (to show respect). Don’t be in a rush to talk or make eye contact; remember, he’s probably still mad. Then, start to reconnect by slowly joining in his activity. Don’t talk about the tantrum yet. Just reward the now-good behavior with a bit of your attention. That will help him get over his pouting and open his heart again. 

More Toddler Tantrum Tips:

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.