Challenging Behaviours: Temper Tantrums

Babies and young children develop and change in amazing ways from birth onwards.

In a few short years, they learn many things: language skills, self-awareness, empathy for the needs of others, how to make friends, a sense of self-control and patience, and kindness. They are also becoming increasingly independent and aware of the changing world. It can be a challenging time.

What are temper tantrums? (click to expand) »

Temper tantrums are:

  • an expression of a young child’s frustration with the challenges of the moment;
  • a sudden unplanned display of emotions;
  • behaviours which can range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, biting, hitting, or breath-holding;
  • most common in children ages one to three;
  • episodes that usually last 30 seconds to two minutes and are most intense at the start lessening in frequency by age four or five, when children learn healthy ways to handle strong emotions.
Why is my child having a temper tantrum? (click to expand) »

Your child may:

  • be having trouble figuring something out or completing a specific task;
  • not have the language skills to express their feelings;
  • be upset with a changing environment;
  • be frustrated with what is happening around them;
  • be tired, hungry, or feel unwell.

A temper tantrum is a typical way that young children show their frustration. They do not “throw a tantrum” out of spite or to embarrass you.

What can I do about temper tantrums? (click to expand) »

You can try to prevent the tantrum by:

  • Having regular times for meals, rest and playtime. This can help a child feel secure.
  • Offering limited and realistic choices that you accept.
  • Keeping off-limits objects out of sight and out of reach.
  • Considering your child’s requests carefully. Is it an outrageous request? Maybe it is not such a bad idea. Choose your battles; accommodate when you can.
  • Helping your child to learn new things. This means helping them do a simple thing that they have not done before, then giving them praise so they can feel proud of what they can do before tackling something more challenging.
  • Giving your child lots of time for play.
  • Learning about what works to calm your child down.
  • Teaching your child to name their feelings. This will help them describe how they are feeling to you.
  • Knowing your child’s limits. If you know your toddler is tired, it may not be the best time to take them grocery shopping or try to squeeze in one more errand.
During the tantrum (click to expand) »
  • Remain calm. Your job is to keep your child safe.
  • Do not try to reason with your child while in a tantrum.
  • Stay quietly with your child; use a comforting voice if you need to speak. Some children need space, and others need you to touch or hold them. Do not give in to your child.
  • Your actions at this time set an example for your child. Hitting and spanking does not help. This sends the message that using force and physical punishment is okay. This may result in more negative behaviours over the long run. Sending a child away from you does not help your child learn control over their behaviours.
After the storm (click to expand) »
  • Praise your child for calming down.
  • Acknowledge their feelings.
  • Comfort your child without giving in to the demands of the tantrum.
  • Never punish or make fun of a child having a temper tantrum.
  • Teach your child other ways to handle anger and frustration. Encourage them to use their words to describe their feelings.
  • Be a good role model.

If other people stare and point, ignore them. Be kind to yourself. Remember, it takes time for children to learn. Be patient; it is tough for young children to control strong feelings.

When to talk with a health care professional (click to expand) »
  • You often feel angry or out of control when you respond to tantrums.
  • You keep giving in.
  • The tantrums cause a lot of bad feelings between you and your child.
  • You have questions about what you are doing or what your child is doing.
  • Your child is older than four and still often has temper tantrums.
  • Your child often hurts themselves or others.

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Last updated: 2022-07-07