Out of Control Tantrums

Updated on January 10, 2009
M.M. asks from Oakmont, PA
16 answers

I have a 2 1/2 year old son who as of late has been having tantrums that last up to a 1/2 an hour. I DON"T KNOW WHAT TO DO?!

I went to school for child development and was a nanny all throughout college. I feel I have the basic tools to combat this typical behavior, however these tantrums make me feel like I am "losing".

Typically when my son has a tantrum I tell him that it is not acceptable to act that way and then I tell him what I want him to do; if he hit's me he get's timeout for a minute. These have been effective in the past, though I do have to repeat myself which I know is normal.

The tantrums he has had lately he hit's me tries to bite me, even kick's me when I don't let him get his way. The first time it happend I stood my ground, put him in timeout, continued to put him in timeout as he was getting up from it early, and then he was fine after a 1/2 hour like nothing happened. I found myself at one point restraining him to try and get him to calm down becasue he was in hysterics...This makes me feel awful. Am I doing the right thing???? Is this behavior normal, will it stop? I have maintined patience throughout these tantrums, i don't want my child to see me angry, but inside I am really frustrated.

I am looking for any ideas on how I can end this out of control behavior, as I am feeling like I don't have control any longer. Have your children down this??? What did you do?

All replies welcome!



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So What Happened?

I want to thank everyone for there feedback! I think I really needed to get some outside perspectives as to what was going on and re-evaluate my plan of action for when my son has tantrums.

It is funny, becuase most of the responses I recieved were about ignoring the tantrums and only doing timeouts when he starts hitting. THe thing is, that is exactly what I used to do! I guess I got off track and needed some reminding, lol.

Regardless, I have been ignoring the tantrums, which has all but ceased the hitting, so I don't have to put him in timeout all that often. I essentially tell him that I am not going to speak to him or give him a response until he settles down and then I walk away (making sure he is not hurting himself obviously).

Although, the tantrums have not stopped they have subsided a lot. They usually involve him wanting food right before dinner, so I am thinking of giving him some water or milk as soon as we get home from daycare and giving him more snacks on the weekend.

Thanks again!


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answers from Lancaster on

Hi M., I totally know what you are going through when my son was about the same age we also dealt with ugly tantrums. What seemed to work for us was putting him in his room until he calmed down, that seemed to really work for us. It will come to an end, you just need to be consistant and not feed into his behavior. it is tough, but sometimes tough love works. Be strong.

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answers from Pittsburgh on


I'm sorry you are going through this. It sounds like you are having a really hard time! If you are in the Allegheny County, you could call the Alliance for Infants and Toddlers at ###-###-#### and request to have him evaluated. He's probably fine, but if you are relatively educated and experienced in early childhood and you're feeling like something might be wrong, it might just ease your mind to have someone else make an evaluation. You can also talk to your pediatrician and see what she thinks...

Good luck, hopefully this is just a phase!

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answers from Scranton on

You're not doing anything wrong, but I think he needs to express himself. When DD (1.5 yrs) throws herself on the floor in a tantrum I just wait it out and I don't react to it. Of course, all children are different, it sounds like your sons tantrums are pretty dramatic. If it were me, I would stop playing into it and just let him get it all out. When he calms down you can begin teaching him positve ways to deal with his feelings. Clearly, punishment isn't working for him anymore. Like everything else, it will be a process, but you will be able to teach him to use his words to get positive attention, not his actions to get negative attention from you. And keep in mind that it will not be this way forever. It's a phase and you will be on the other side of it before long. Good luck. I hope you find something that works for you.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

My kids have both gone through periods of terrible tantrums. I agree about putting your son in a safe location and ignoring him. If he doesn't have an audience he may be less inclined to prolong the tantrum. Another thought...do you count "1,2,3" to get him to cooperate. That might be something to try. The book "Magic 1-2-3" clearly details how to make counting to three effective. If you stick with it and follow through on the consequences he should come to know that you mean business and he will also know what to expect if he doesn't comply.

Sometimes no matter how well any of us are "trained", I think when it comes to our own kids and our own emotions we are at a loss for what to do. Here are a few things I do with my kids to avoid and/or deal with tantrums in various situations. Maybe they will give you some ideas.

I tell my kids I know they are upset and that I will be willing to listen to them when they can talk to me without hitting, kicking, etc.

If possible, I give choices so they feel they have some control (choice of two different desserts, etc).

I do a countdown before transitions (10 minutes until X, 5 minutes until X, 2 minutes unti X, time for X).

I practice using feeling words so they can communicate their emotions with less physical drama.

I praise them when they use more appropriate techniques in place of tantrums or also when they cool down quickly.

Good luck to you.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

Hi M.,

Boy, this takes me back a few years! My son is 21 now, so its been a while, but I went through the very same thing with my son.

First, it sounds like from your description, you are doing everything right. Remaining calm and sticking to your guns is the right thing. Your son has a very strong will, as does mine. I used to say, "My son has a very strong constitution." That was a nice way to sum up his out-of-control tantrums.

In your situation, it might be a little exascerbated by having joint custody. Is is possible that his tantrums are getting him his desired results at dad's house? Does whoever cares for him do the same when he throws tantrums or are they thinking that he is "cute" or "just being a boy"? Inconsistency can have a negative effect when you are trying to set up a boundary for behavior, if another caretaker does not keep up the rules or consequences you have established. (I'm not judging you for being separated, I'm divorced myself).

Either way, you can still make the rules for your house consistent. Keep doing what you've been doing, and even if you feel frustrated or that you are "losing", you are not. Discipline isn't a magic cure. It doesn't mean that the child will never do it again, it just means that you responded appropriately this time, and next time you are going to have to respond appropriately again, and again, and again, until finally the child realizes that his behavior isn't having any of his desired results.

I have a very strong constitution myself, so my kids got it honestly. They all have a stubborn streak. One thing that was always for sure, whatever they were having the fit over, that was the thing they were absolutely NOT going to have. (So, even if they settled down after 30 minutes like nothing happened, it did happen) So, if they were tantruming over a toy, that toy went away for a day. If they were tantruming over doing something, then they could not do that thing for the rest of the day. They would stay in time out for attempting to bite, kick, throw things, etc. Time out was the consequence of the tantrum, AND taking the thing away for the rest of the day was also a consequence of the tantrum. So, in the end, a tantrum would get them the opposite of what they wanted. After a while, a tantrum just wasn't worth it.

Make sure that they child does not get any attention from you while in time out. Time out is time out. No talking to or lecturing the child. No threatening such as, "Don't you get up, I mean it..." and actually, don't even look at them. Turn your back or walk out of the room. If they get up early, put them back without comment except to remind them to stay put, and turn around again.

One more thing I did, and it became a mantra, of sorts, as my kids were growing up. I used to say, "When you ask a question, the answer can be yes or no." That meant that I, as the parent, had the right to say no to a question and it was not appropriate for them to get angry or have a fit over it. As teenagers, I still sometimes repeat that saying and I get the obgligatory teenage eye-roll, but they still get it. I'm even using it with my future stepson now, and he is learning to back down.

Another thing I did when I saw the tantrum begin to ramp up, I would point my finger and say, "No fit." and sometimes that would stop it. If I saw that the child was struggling to maintain control, I would either suggest that they come sit on my lap for a moment and I would try to talk to them about what they were getting upset about. I'd say, "How can Mommy help you?" or I'd suggest they sit down or put down whatever they were doing for a minute to gain control. The whole purpose behind this was trying to teach them more self control in a situation that was frustrating them.

I hope a couple of these suggestions help. I know its frustrating, but they grow up so quickly, even though it doesn't seem like it right now. Enjoy his growth, his imagination, and his development. Its an honor to be a mother.


answers from Pittsburgh on

Hi M., You are not alone. Each of my three girls went through a "stage" of tantrums that lasted from a couple of months to a year. My most effective method of dealing with tantrums (and it took a while to figure out!) was to completely remove myself from their tantrum. I would let them lay in the middle of a room and kick, scream, cry whatever and tell them quietly and firmly "when your done, we will talk." Then I would ignore them. (While keeping a secret eye on them to make sure they didn't hurt themselves of course.) If we were out we would stop whatever we were doing and go home ASAP...even if it ment eating grilled cheese or pb&j and soup for dinner. Believe me when I tell you we only had to walk out of the Mall once with nothing and once out of a grocery store for them to realize that we were serious and would not tolerate that behavior! At home it took a bit longer for them to get the message and the drama of the tantrums decreased as they learned control. Eventually we figured out the best punishment for each of our girls. The most important things are consistancy and follow through. Never ever make a threat you have no intention or no ability to follow through with, and always try to remain calm cool and collected through the punishment! Hang in there, this stage will pass with time and effective management! Best wishes.



answers from Philadelphia on


Hang in there! You sound like you are doing just what you should be doing. I know how emotionally draining this can be. It's so exhausting! But remember the big picture. This will not last forever! My oldest son was a champion tantrum thrower. Thirty minutes would have been a short tantrum for him! His tantrums were always triggered by frustration, not getting what he wanted. He was and remains a strong willed human being. I tried everything. I'm ashamed to say that I lost my cool on more than one occasion and flat out spanked him. I certainly do not recommend that! What worked best was simply ignoring him. I didn't even bother with time-out except if he hit me. If all he was doing was thrashing and screaming, I'd just step over him and go about my business. It's really draining on the parent, and I deserve an Academy Award for the times I was able to act as if he weren't even there. My son's behavior continued for months until he finally realized that his tantrums did not get him what he wanted. But, oh! I wouldn't want to re-live that time. Even our family members still tease my son about his long-lasting tantrums.

He will be 21 years old in April. Now, he is my calmest child. Over the years, he developed great self-control. In fact, I've seen him maintain incredible composure in very stressful situations, and it makes me so very proud. My husband and I learned to adopt a stance all through our child-rearing years that no overly emotional demands or behaviors on the part of our children will receive positive attention. Not only did we ignore and not reward toddler tantrums, but we also did no reward backtalk, bad attitudes, eye rolling, etc. when all of that started in the adolescent years. As a result, by the time our boys were 13 or so, we had actual human conversations about situations, because they had learned that we would listen and consider anything they said to us, as long as it was said calmly and respectfully. We respected our children's opinions, but we remained the decision makers at age appropriate levels.

Your journey to building respectful relationships between parent and child begins here. And you're doing fine. You still have a long way to go, but it will get better.

You will get through this. You're doing just what you should do. If your child is strong willed, then it may take a while before he learns that anger and demands do not get him what he wants. When he's calm, you can teach him with positive reinforcement. When he's in the throes of a tantrum, ignore him as far as safety will allow. The strong willed ones have incredible "hang time". They can keep this stuff up for quite a while, but you are mom, and you know what's best.

I promise you, some day you'll look back on this and smile and feel proud, knowing that you did the right things to teach your son self-control.



answers from Philadelphia on

My son did this often. Take things away from him. Start with his favorite toys. Tell him that he can only get them back if he acts like a big boy, cause they are big boy toys and he is acting like a baby. That only babies throw fits like that. An do not give them back to him for a few days. If he does this at home, put him to bed, tell him it is nap time. If he does it while your out, take him home then put him to bed. The best way to do this that will be effective is take him to the playground or somewhere he likes to be. Wait for the fit and then leave. But explain why you are doing this, that if he can not behave right then he can not stay. But make sure you explain that it was his actions that caused this, not that your mad, and make it seem that you really wanted to be there. I did this to my God-daughter twice when she was two, once at the playground, once at Chuck-E-Cheese she never did it again. And she was spoiled, it works, just make him know that you are not mad,laugh a little. But when he is good, tell him that you are so proud of him of how good he is being. Good luck



answers from Pittsburgh on

Hey M.,
You could be describing my son a few years ago. I hated that phase. Time outs turned into a wrestling match and I would feel horrible after holding him a time out.
I find that O. of the best things I could do was to walk away from him. You're showing him that people don't like to be around someone having a fit. He's going to be crying anyway and he may calm himself down better without your involvement which may be escalating it.
Hang in there. Good luck.



answers from Pittsburgh on

Oh M., I am with you! Both of my boys have been tantrum throwers at one time or another. My three year old just started up again since Daddy was home a lot over the holidays. His dad gives in and tries to reason with him during the fit and it just reinforces the behavior. I would have a talk with your ex and see how he is handling the fits. I love 1-2-3 Magic also, and lately I have been giving my son one warning to stop throwing the fit, then time out until he is finished. I sometimes have to pick him up several times to put him back in the time out chair because he writhes out of it. I did this hard core without emotion for four days this week and the fits have completely stopped. I refuse to talk or engage with him until he is finished. Got my husband to back me up too and it has been completely extinguished. Ignore those hysterics, my other son even threw up once. He lived through it though. Hang in there, you can get rid of this behavior and smile again! You are doing great!



answers from Philadelphia on

I agree somewhat with PP, sometimes ignoring is your best bet. Unless, of course, he is being physically agressive, then you will have to address it until he stops. After that, I would continue to ignore. This sounds like an attention-seeking exploration, he may push your buttons just to see what happens! As far as restraint goes, instead I would maybe put him in a safe place such as his room and let him calm down. Your holding him may just make him escalate more. If he ALWAYS gets a reaction to the negative attention seeking, it may get worse! Good luck!!!



answers from Erie on

Just wondered if there was any pattern to it?? Low Blood sugar, needing a nap, ready for bed or something.
You sound like you do have a handle on it, even if it doesn't feel like it.



answers from Pittsburgh on


Please talk with your doctor about this. I would also suggest making an appointment with the Child Development Unit at Children's Hospital. What I thought were really bad tantrums in my daughter was actually Sensory Processing Disorder. All of the parenting advice and books in the world will do you absolutely no good if there is an underlying disorder.
The red flags are his behavior during the tantrum and the fact that you had to restrain him. Hurting himself or you is definitely a red flag.
If he has an underlying disorder, he will not respond to the "normal" ways of calming. I learned this the hard way, waited too long, and am now so thankful I got the diagnosis. I now understand why my daughter has these episodes (they aren't tantrums, her brain his wired differently, it gets overloaded trying to process sensory input and then melts down, just like a computer hard drive that keeps running looking for information and finally crashes). With therapy and help, things are improving.
I can tell you she has problems with transitions, with too much input, with exhaustion, and with sickness.
Good luck to you



answers from Philadelphia on


My older son, now seven, was (sometimes still is) a big violent tantrum-thrower. He's big for his age, and at about three-and-a-half, I was getting to a place where I couldn't physically restrain him during tantrums. It was actually pretty scary a couple of times, and very disheartening. We read and took a lot of good information from a book called "Raising Your Spirited Child", which gave me some techniques for recognizing those signs and situations that would likely end up in overwhelming my son, which would then lead to a meltdown. I came to realize that he ramped up into a major tantrum when we made transitions too quickly, or when he was nervous or upset about something else (The month of August is usually bad, because he starts worrying about the start of school.) I found that the 1-2-3 method actually made things worse with him many times, though it's fine with my other, more even-tempered son. Read the book if you get a chance. You may have some "aha!" moments like we did. Good luck!



answers from Scranton on

M., sounds like you're doing the right thing. I give you lots of credit for keeping your cool for a 30 minutes tantrum. I think if you keep doing the t.o. and hold your ground, it will stop in a few weeks. GOOD LUCK!


answers from Allentown on

Hi M.,

First of all, you are a good mother. What you are experiencing is a power struggle.

Okay, you know that. Now, what is your son's behavior with his father? Is it the same?

Here is a web site: hope it can answer your question.


Good luck. Hope this helps. D.

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