EARLY TANTRUMS- Is the Ped Right?

Updated on November 14, 2011
L.A. asks from Kew Gardens, NY
22 answers

DS (13 months) has been having “tantrums”. If we go for a romp to the lobby so he can practice some walking & explore without annoying our neighbors, he gets visibly frustrated and annoyed waiting for the elevator. He will either bang the door, cry in protest, and then throw himself on the floor, he even kicks his feet (he’s mastering the technique). Similar scene if he isn’t allowed to push the elevator buttons to his hearts content. He looses his cool in the laundry room too if I tell him it is not alright to pry the drain grate off the floor and play with the lint therein. Again when I stop him from tossing the dirt out of our potted plants, when I stop him from playing with the toilet seat while getting ready for a bath, and in many other instances.

Young Mr. Independent, decides sometimes that he doesn’t want to hold my hand, and he scampers off in somewhere. Or if I do have a hold of his hand, and he doesn’t want to go where I am headed, he protests by going limp and collapsing into a heap on the floor.

The PED recommended Tantrums are normal and should be dealt with the same way each time. Stand firm, walk away, let him cry, let him heap on the floor and leave him there. He wants your attention and the more you give it to him the worse it will get. If need be, pick him up off a dirty floor and place him on a clean patch.

If he doesn't want to hold your hand then in the stroller he goes.....belted in.

What am I supposed to do in these situations? Do I handle all the same way or do different techniques apply for each?

What can I do next?

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answers from New York on

Ped sounds right on to me. I always tried to ignore tantrums as much as possible and, as a result, DS (5) next-to-never tantrums now. In fact, I think we've only had two or three big tantrums in the last year. You would think by 5 that most kids wouldn't tantrum anymore, but wow! You should see some of my friends' kids! Some of them still tantrum daily!

The less you pay attention, the more they realize a tantrum won't get them what they want.

However, it is tough out in public to use this technique. People look at a kid lying on the sidewalk or on a store floor screaming, then look at you like you're a terrible parent. In this situation, I always tried to remove my son from the scene as quickly as possible. I remember a few wicked tantrums in the car seat.

However, don't make the same mistake as the woman in Riley's post and leave the kid screaming in the middle of the parking lot! Not recommended! :D

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

i taught my daughter sign language when she was 7 or 8 months and tantrums cut down incredibly, before that she would scream her head off all day long, once she could communiate it went down and she never really had that many throughout the next 2 years...i'd say if hes not talking up a tron maybe teach him some find sign language like more, juice, food, things like that to cut down on his feelings of being overwhelmed from not being able to communicate...that and I agree ignore tantrums too...but you need to put him in enviorments where you dont have to say no all the time, or let up a little, if hes always hearing no thats not good either

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answers from Boston on

As a mother of 3, I completely disagree that tantrums are just to get attention, at least when kids are this young. Toddlers throw tantrums because they have very intense feelings that they do not have the skills to express. They are trying to show you the intensity of what they are feeling the only way they know how. When he throws a tantrum, try this... get down on his level, and ask "Are you mad? Are you MAD MAD MAD MAD MAD!" You can even throw in a stomp or two or something else to show intensity.... the child will often stop mid scream and look up at you and say Yes! And satisfied that they have communicated what they were trying to say, the tantrum will stop. At that point it's easy to go on to say "Are you mad because I wouldn't let you push all the buttons" and then when they answer you can either explain why, or just say "I'm sorry, but I couldn't let you do that now. Now we are going to......" and say whatever you're going to do. Through this, you not only show your child that you understand them, but you're also modeling the communication skills they need in order to express those feelings. Sometimes it takes a few guesses to get the feeling right.... usually it's mad, sad, or frustrated in my experience. Recently, hurt feelings and tired have come up, but also my son is almost 3 and tantrums are becoming few and far between unless he's overtired or being provoked by older siblings.

The book The Happiest Toddler on the Block is very very good and goes into this in more detail. I highly recommend it.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

you have an excellent pediatrician! Kudos to your doctor!

Yep, consistency is the key. & never let your child see you sweat...no trying to cajole, no trying to coerce. Simply stand firm....& that's the end of it.

Again & again, I recommend the same video "1-2-3 Magic". It saved our family....& many others. :)

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

The doctor is right. Stay calm, don't yell at your son, but do take away your attention (and even fussing at or scolding him is "negative attention" so don't even give him that).

Remember that these behaviors are normal. He is not able yet to express himself verbally and tell you "I want this" or "I need that," so every single time he feels he's denied something his one and only way to express himself about it is to fuss or yell or run away. Don't expect more of him than he can achieve at his stage of development: In his mind, he lives totally and completely in this very second and being denied something is cause for him to turn to jelly this very second. This is absolutely typical and normal. It will not scar him for life for you to turn off your attention -- IF you ensure he is safe (can't turn over a table or bookshelf on himself, can't grab something and stuff it in his mouth, isn't in the path of other people walking) and say, "I can't understand you when you do that" and then pretend to walk a few steps away and turn your back (while watching him).

One important thing -- Set him up for success. He is using his hands to explore his world right now and this is something he must be allowed to do in the right circumstances, so make the circumstances right! If he hears no, no, no a lot, the word no stops meaning anything at all. You know already that he will want to push elevator buttons; bring something else into the elevator for him to play with and distract him. You know already that he will try to mess with the toilet at bath time; have the bath already full and him undressed and ready to go in the water before you even take him into the bathroom -- so there is zero time that he is standing in the bathroom before actually going into the water. You know he will go for the grate in the laundry room; bring something to distract him or, if you must, put him into the stroller while you are in there, or do the laundry at a time of day when someone else is around to watch him at home and you don't have to take him at all; soon he will be big enough to "help" you stuff laundry into a washer or pull it out of a dryer into a basket and that will keep him busy.

He needs to touch and feel and explore so be certain he has a LOT of safe ways to do that -- can you have room in your home that is totally fine for him to explore like crazy? A childproofed room with things from toys to everyday items (pots, pans, pillows, empty boxes) he can mess with all he likes? Make his world a "yes" world as much as you can, and when you expect a "no" encounter, be ready to distract him and redirect his attention to something else, so you are not always saying "no."

By the way -- he is far too young for any consequences or discipline for this other than the removal of your attention. He is too young to understand "I did X and mom took my toy away, so next time I do X she may take my toy away." Please don't try to institute a consequence like that with one this young; he will not make the connection you would want him to make. Remove the attention if things are already at tantrum stage but redirect and distract BEFORE things get to that stage and avoid the tantrum altogether.

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answers from San Francisco on

I believe your ped is right - handle it the same every time - absolutely no attention - walk away. These are new "skills" and he is practicing them. He is learning what your response is. Teach him that this behavior gets him absolutely nothing. If you warn him three or four times, he will push you to that third or fourth warning every time. One warning and then consequence. He'll figure it out real quick!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

Well if it helps our daughter started doing tantrums right about at that age (maybe 15 months) and I totally ignored her each time (I learned from her brother but it took me a while with him to realize I need to do this). If we were at home and she was safe I would even walk into the next room and start emptying the dishwasher or something. Zero attention. It could be her personality but she is 2 now and she does not have tantrums very often - hardly ever! And her brother had them frequently. Again it could be personality.

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answers from Charlotte on

Added - about the toilets, mom, get a locking clip that prevents him from opening the toilet lid. Then the only thing he can do is flush. Hope he doesn't figure that one out!

He's right. When he is older, like 4, if he's still doing it, then you have to really worry about it. But right now, do what the doctor says. And NEVER give in.

There's a great book in the Berenstain Bears series called "The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmees" that shows in detail one of the cubs having a tantrum in the store. Your son is too young for that now, but I would advise you getting that book for later on when stories make sense to him.

Good luck!

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answers from St. Louis on

I agree with the walk away and give them no attention.

I just want to add that if however they are in an unsafe place...the parking lot or someplace where it would disturb others...pick them up (screaming and kicking) and place them somewhere else to have their tantrum.

I know when you're in the middle of one you think all eyes are you for being a terrible parent, but now that my kids are older and I see others going through it. I think "been there, done that" and "glad I'm done with that stage" - never that they're a terrible parent.

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answers from Portland on

Yes, your pedi is right. Of course you can't always leave him in a heap in a public space. If needed you can pick him up and take him to a safe spot, while staying close by, and then allow him to be in a heap with no more attention from you.

By doing the same thing consistently and swiftly you're teaching him that his tantrum will not get him what he wants. I don't necessarily agree that it's attention that he wants. He wants whatever you've told him he can't have. You're teaching him that a tantrum will not get it for him.

I also suggest that when ever possible try to distract him. For example with the drain in the laundry room, take a couple of toys with you and get him interested in the toys rather than the drain.

As for elevator buttons. I found that my grandchildren at that age just wanted to push a button. So, even tho the button has been pushed I let them push it again. This worked some of the time.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Agree with the PED and the mamas below. Handle the same way each time...remove him from that situation (especially the ones in public!) and ignore.

We also used to tell our daughter "ok, well, *I'm* going to do XYZ. You can join me when you're done." Walking away gets their attention really quickly.

As for not holding hands, strap him in the car seat/stroller or pick him up and hold him. If he collapses in a puddle, pick him up and move him. With holding hands in the parking lot/store/whatever, we always told our daughter she had to hold our hand because there was "danger" (from cars, traffic, people, whatever). Even if she didn't care or listen at the time, it eventually got through to her ( at 2 yrs old, she knows that we ALWAYS hold hands in parking lots).

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dayton on

Consistency is key.
I highly recommend the book "Making the Terrible Two's Terrific!" by John Rosemond. (Some people do not care for him...but I feel he is pretty objective in this particular book.)
Your local library should have it and it is a quick insightful read into the toddler mind.
My DD started the tantrum phase at 15 months.
It's hard. I'm going through it myself w/ my DS, but it will get easier. Unless you let him learn to call the shots.
Then it gets harder. ;)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Your son sounds alot like my son, who is now 3. He is VERY strong willed and independent, which are dangerous traits in a 1 year old - they dont really get consequences, are impulsive, and not really rationale.

I think your doc's advise is good. Think of situations that happen alot (like running off instead of holding your hand) and think of what you will say and do before hand (so you will be mentally prepared) and then do it.

Also, as others mentioned, distraction is an excellent tool at this point - you cant push the buttons, but you can hold my purse... My daughter is so delighted with the purse that she forgets the elevator button disappointment.

The problem is that there will be few places you can go without your child causing a scene because he doesnt get his way, but if you let him get his way, he can be a danger to himself.

Look for outings/situations where he can pretty much do what he wants - toddler playgrounds, your back yard, a room in your house that is 100% childproofed and avoid, or be prepared to leave, others where not following directions can get him hurt (the grocery store! the zoo! the fair!).

Praise him alot for making good choices. Use positive directions like "stay in the house" instead of "Dont run out the front door" or "Leave the dirt in the plant pot" Instead of "Dont throw the dirt." You will feel a lot better because you arent saying "no no no" all day, and he will feel less frustrated.

The good news is that he will become more manageable as he gets older, and his strong will and determination will help him to be a great success later in life.

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answers from Milwaukee on

Yep your ped is correct. You are basically on suicide watch as a parent right now. Keeping your toddler from accidentally killing himself. When he can't do what he want's, he lets you know the only way he can - by throwing a fit. Because he has started young and is so intense, you will have a rough time for awhile, but remember that it's normal and be consistent about how you deal with it. Which should be ignoring and making sure he does not get hurt while throwing a fit. 2 of my kids would throw their head back when mad and hit the hard floor. I learned to stick my foot out and catch their neck in the crook of my foot. I would softly lay their head down with my foot, then step over them and continue ignoring. I got pretty fast with my foot LOL

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Ped is right. Give him a consequence and make it the same each time. I would recommend that you get the 1,2,3 magic book. When he is this young he won't understand the talking part but he will understand "No" in a firm voice followed by being put into his crib when he has these meltdowns.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Yes your ped TOTALLY right. He is acting perfectly normal for his age. And you need to ignore the tantrums, for example let him cry on the floor and only attend to him when he is calm, put him in the stroller if he won't hold hands, etc. The thing that you dind't say but is implied is to speak to him - tell him the expected behavior, tell him the consequence, and tell him what is happening when he doesn't listen. Use clear simple calm speech, and he will catch on.

PS - I read the other posts and I totally agree with distraction and avoidance. If you know wha twill get him started, do't put him in those situations. If pushing elevator buttons is his thing, take the stairs. Or shove a toy in his hand when you get in the elevator. or carry him or put him in the stroller and stay away from the buttons. Etc.

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answers from Chicago on

Oh god, my son did this, and my DD (15mos) does this now.
At the young age, we just ignore them. When they need to be redirected or controlled physically, strapping into the stroller does the trick. Both of my kids are/were runners, too.

So I think you're on the right track!

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answers from Portland on

I agree with your doc. Consistency will help your son gradually learn that he won't get rewarded for his tantrums.

However, it's often possible to avoid the tantrum if you recognize he's going in that direction early enough. You might want to try this technique demonstrated by Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ1428uYs2g&NR=1&a.... .

He shows exactly how he "speaks" the toddler's language so they know he's heard the need they are expressing. This calms them and makes it easier for them to cooperate. I've watched that technique work, and have used it myself with my grandson. You may need to "fine tune" your tone to capture your child's attention, but with a little practice, you may have fewer tantrums to deal with.

One other thing you might consider, if you're going into a space where you know certain problems will arise, is to plan ahead. Remove or cover the temptation if you can. For example, as you first enter your laundry room, throw a towel over the floor drain – your son may not even think about it if he doesn't see it. And take along some fascinating toy that he doesn't usually get to interact with to keep him busy.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

I agree, once your little one realizes the tantrum is NOT going to get a reaction out of you they will subside.

One note though. Please put a lock on your toilet, children are top heavy. Their heads outweigh most of their body when unbalanced. Your child can drown in the toilet if they get unbalanced.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Des Moines on

Yep, totally normal!

My son's tantrums went through the ROOF if I touched him. So if it was safe to do so I just ignored him and let him throw his tantrum. (I found it worked best if I sat just beyond arm's reach-- leaving the room made him scream louder and longer!) If I had too though he got picked up and belted into his car seat or stroller or moved to a safe place. I just accepted that if I had to touch/move him mid tantrum I was going to get hit/scratched/bit and that the tantrum would last longer.


answers from Columbia on

If it gets crazy out of hand, and the conventional techniques don't work, shoot me a PM. I'll share with you the very unconventional technique that has been handed down (and has WORKED every time!) for 4 generations of sisters, brothers, cousins, etc.

But it's not for the faint of heart! Or those who can't hold back a laugh...



answers from Dallas on

I like SM's answer. You can also give choices - elevator buttons - he can't push the numbers, but he can push the up/down arrow to call the elevator, and can push the door close button, etc. Whatever is OK to do that's a compromise that works. And say why as well. You want him to do what you say, and you want him to learn why what he's doing is wrong in addition to listening to you.

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