Help with Toddler Meltdowns

Updated on December 11, 2008
J.V. asks from Brightwood, OR
9 answers

Hi everyone
My 18 month old daughter has recently started having pretty bad tantrums. They have been happening about once a day when she either doesn't get a long nap or she is tired in the evening. So, I do know that they are tied to when she is tired. She is doing the crying and screaming thing and sometimes rolls on the floor and even has bit her hands when she is really frustrated. It is so hard to watch your usually easy going child have such a meltdown. She is also a very strongwilled child and does really like to be independent. I am feeling at a loss because she does not want to be comforted at all and they seem to last about 20 to 30 minutes. I have been trying a few different things, including ignoring them. But, sometimes I feel like she is going to hurt herself so I try to put her in a carpeted area. I also know she is struggling with the separation anxiety stage as well. I would like to be consistent and nurturing in the response, but at the same time I want her to learn that she can't always get her way. Feedback on other people's experiences during this developemental stage would be highly appreciated.

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Seattle on


My daughter is 21 months and occasionally does the same thing. Other than age you could be describing her to a T. Her meltdowns are also tied to lack of sleep.

One thing that really helped us stop the meltdowns before they happen is to give voice to her frustrations before she gets out of control. "I'm so mad that ______________". This really helped both my kids when they were at that age. They soooooo very much want to talk with us, but don't have the vocabulary. Being their voice when they can't has really helped my kids, and also teaching them sign language.

Hope this helps,

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answers from Portland on

Hi J.,

My daughter is on the cusp of turning two and about 6 months ago she too went thru a tantrum throwing phase. Usually tied to being tired, got worse when I tried to help in some way. I found that if I gave her a chance to be angry and upset, about 5-10 mins of tantrum, then I could come back and get down at her level and talk to her in a quiet calm voice and she usually responded and then I could distract her with something else...a cup of juice, a cracker, her favaorite stuffed animal, etc. For my daughter it only lasted about 4-5 months and now she knows the deal and will stop after about a minute or two and ask to be held and then we can get on with whatever it was we were in the middle of. She is also more easy to distract when I can see it coming, I think because she knows it's coming too. Hope this is helpful!


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answers from Seattle on

Hi J.. I am at a similar stage with my 16 month old and am finding Harvey Karp, The Happiest Toddler on the Block to be really useful. His theory is that you need to first acknowledge their feelings in toddler language (eg. 'You're mad, so mad, you want toy now..' etc etc) until they calm down, then explain your point of view and then use distraction. It takes a little bit of getting used to but I have found so far that it can be quite effective at stopping my daughter in her tracks and averting a long tantrum.

You should be able to get it at your library. I'd be interested to hear what ideas others may have too.


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answers from Anchorage on

My son is a little over 25 mos. and at 18 mos. he had meltdowns. I researched it then and was reassured that children who trust their parents do this. They feel safe enough to let out their frustrations. At that age they don't know how to get the words out for their feelings. My son even hit himself in the head. It feels helpless at first. I found out that holding him and guessing what label is attached. You seem sad your friend is leaving, I'll hold you until you feel better. Let's wave Bye bye out the window. Look we could play cars.. Vrooom and run the car up a leg. Oh, your mad you can't play with glass, Glass is danger and can cut. Look here's a cup for you. Or I'll be here if you need me, it's ok if you get angry but I'll hold you so you don't hurt yourself, etc. I've also used timeout because tantrums sometimes included throwing things or trying to hit me or the dog. It works well. Sometimes I explain that you're tired and I'll hold you a min. to rest or let's read a book before nap time. Hang in there.

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answers from Spokane on


I know what you are talking about. My only advice is to try to misdirect her before she goes into complete meltdown. My son could not be comforted and when I tried it would just make him more upset. When you see she is in a mood and is having trouble really try to talk to her. If I see my son was getting upset with a toy or has hurt himself I would say to him "Oh goodness, can you believe that dang toy...why isnt it working?" or "What a very bad floor for bonking you on the noggin...bad boy floor!" Something silly to turn the tide. Dont worry she will grow out of it, my son just turned 3 and we joke now about how he was such a handful. Some kids I have learned just deal with emotions differently. My son was the only one out of all 7 kids I have raised that ever threw an honest to goodness fit. Rolling on the floor and crying fit. It is hard to watch your child be that upset, that's for sure!


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answers from Portland on

I think the simplest solution is to make sure she is getting adequate naps/sleep.


answers from Seattle on

Readin this is like reading a book about my son. He has been doing this tantrums for as long as I can remember. He also starts them when there hasnt been a nap or he has woken up to early from his nap. He seems to start them whenever i am up to my armpits in making dinner. I dont have a rememdy for them but sympathy. what i have learned to do is not to feed into them. he has had fits that have lasted three hours. i just let him go through it. at the end he is so tired he usually falls asleep. I have also tried to get him interested in something else. a favorite tv show or movie. or start an art project. anything to get their minds off the tantrum. I am so sorry to read another mom has to go through this. hang in there. i would like to say it gets better but i have yet to figure out how myself!!



answers from Portland on

I had to sometimes hold my one tantrum child so she wouldn't hurt herself, even though any sense of constriction made her worse. She wasn't a tantrum-for-attention kid, and I never figured out what the cause was. I ended up sitting near her but not touching her (unless I had to protect her) until she was ready ... and then she would not want snuggles or holding: she would shove her head as hard as she could against me and keep tantruming for a long while more.

This could go on for 40 minutes.

It was probably about every other day for about 2 weeks, maybe a month. It certainly seemed never ending at the time.

I had one brother who tantrumed. He lasted more like a year I think. One family friend STILL tells the story of being in the grocery store with my mom, and this brother was screaming and yelling and wailing and thrashing around in the middle of an aisle and Mom was saying very calmly and firmly, "Good job not banging your head on the floor, [name]! Good job!" -- because she had been working with him for quite some time to not bang his head on the floor at home, and she was really truly glad he wasn't banging it on the cement floor and proud of him for achieving that modicum of self-control!

All we can do is take it one day at a time, especially with kids who are reacting to inner confusions and issues.

To interject a note of levity, there was once a funny YouTube video of a kid who only tantrumed if her parents were watching ... if her parents (toting a video camera) moved around a corner, she would hush, pause ... and then appear, looking for them, and as soon as she saw them, flop down and tantrum again ;)! OY! Clearly THAT was all about the reaction ;).



answers from Seattle on

I think you are doing the right thing in putting her in a place that she can't her self and you can observer her. The biting of her hands is really scary. I do think your main focus needs to be teaching your daughter how to handle her anger safely. A big chore.

The bad news is that she will probably have more frequent temper tantrums as she goes through the twos and even the threes.

I would suggest you and your husband develop (maybe with the help of a counselor) unchanging plan of what to do when she goes out of control when she is at home, and when she is in a store, and when she is visiting some one at there home, etc.

It is important to be calm, consistent, and united.

I wish you the best of luck. I lived through a strong willed daughter who started having temper tantrums at 6 months and just had another (she's 29). Sigh. But most of them stopped at six. I recommend sports during high school. Multiple sports.