Staying Calm Through Tantrums

Updated on March 07, 2009
A.L. asks from Coatesville, PA
22 answers

Hey ladies- I'd love to hear your advice on how you keep your cool while you child is having a tantrum.

My 17 month old little girl is starting to really freak out sometimes. Todays example- she woke up perfectly content, got almost 12 hours of sleep (yay for finally sleeping through the night) sat down and daddy fed her breakfast and she ate and ate, and then all of a sudden started screaming and nothing would satisfy her. She didn't want more food, she didn't want anything in her line of sight, getting her out of the high chair didn't help, she just decided she was in a miserable mood and was going to scream and scream and scream. When she acts like this, especially when I know that all of her needs are being met, I have a hard time staying patient. My auto-reaction is wanting to yell even louder than she is! This frustration just boils inside of me and sometimes I just want to punch a wall. Now I'm not a rageful person, and I would never shake or hit my child, I don't even believe in spanking. There's just something about her screaming that just sets me off and makes me want to scream myself! I think part of it comes from growing up, because when my parents got angry with me as a child, they did it verbally, screaming and cursing. I defintely do not want my daughter to experience something like that, and I know that when I raise my voice, her tantrums just get worse!

So anyway, does anyone know any good books and/or techniques to keep calm when your toddler is freaking out?

Thanks ladies!!!

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So What Happened?

I have Positive Discipline and Happiest Toddler on the block out from the library. So far I've been trying some of the Happiest Toddler techniques I leared from the video and it's been going alright!

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answers from Philadelphia on

My 20 month old has been throwing tantrums about nothing since she was about 8 months or so. I just ignore her for a while. You can't even talk to her while she's throwing a tantrum or she gets even more ticked off. So, I will let her roll around and scream for about 10 minutes (unless she happens to stop before that) then I will pick her up if she'll let me. She's usually ready to calm down by then. That seems to be the only thing that works with her right now. Sometimes distraction works, but it's very rare.



answers from Pittsburgh on

Mine is the same age, so I can totally relate. We love Harvy Karp and recommend the Happiest Toddler on the Block (the companion to Happiest Baby on the Block-- best baby book ever!) I calmly acknowledge my son's feelings ("You're mad at Mama because she won't give you another cookie") and then try to redirect him if he isn't too nuts yet. If he's totally out of control, I just ignore him, and leave the room if necessary (as long as he's somewhere safe, and not, say, on the stairs, lol). Anyway, this is just a phase, and as they get more expressive, they will tantrum less. We also use Baby Signing Time DVDs and my son can sign to ask for anything he wants, so that eliminates the miscommunication tantrums. But mostly you just have to ignore them, and then give them lots of attention when they don't tantrum. Good luck!

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I can relate. Remember that you do not want your emotions to escalate over the escalating (irrational) emotions of a child! I grew up in a house with a lot of screaming at times and I don't want that for my son either. Walk away if you need to. And try this--the louder she screams, the quieter you get. Even whisper. Sometimes it really catches them off guard and a low tone really can work for you.
She may be a little young to "get it" with time outs. You could also try taking away a favorite toy/lovely for an hour. Be prepared the first time--she will probably REALLY scream but do whatever you need to do: walk away, count to 10 (or 50 or 2 million) to yourself.....
This is the beginning. Better to find a way now to stop the tantrums.
Good luck!



answers from Harrisburg on

The worst thing you can do during a tantrum is respond to it. Responding to it will only fuel her tantrum.

You need to ignore the tantrum. It is easier to ignore tantrums if your child is not in the same room with you. Try putting her in her room every time she starts a tantrum. If she won't go on her own, pick her up and take her there yourself. Also, when she starts the tantrums, don't try to talk her out of the tantrum. She is way past the point of talking. She is so absorbed in her tantrum that she won't be listening to you.

This is what I did/do with my kids ages 8, 3 & 2.....First and most important, I stay calm. I don't show them any emotion at all. Next, I pick them up and take them to their room. Before closing the door to their room, I tell them that they can come back out when they calm down and are finished with their tantrum. This works very well for me. My oldest daughter's tantrums were short lived with this method. My son and my youngest daughter are going through this now. With my son, all I have to do now is ask him if he wants to go to his room. In most cases, that stops the tantrum right there. If the tantrum doesn't stop, he still gets sent to his room. It is taking longer with them, I think, because of them being so close together in age. But, I am still confident that in time, the tantrums will go away. I just have to be patient and consistent.

I know tantrums can be very frustrating and they can definitely grate on your nerves. However, if you stay calm, stick to the same reaction, such as sending her to her room, they will become less frequent over time until she learns how to deal with whatever is triggering the tantrums.

Good Luck.



answers from Reading on

A., I am having the same issues with my 16 month old. When she doesn't get her way she screams that shrill top of her lungs scream and hits anything she can reach (people, tables, the floor, walls, furniture, etc.) It is REALLY frustrating because I don't know where she learned it. Apparently it's a natural phase they all go through (as you and I don't know eachother and are having the same exact problem). I also instinctually go to yell but can usually stop myself and just calmly say, "Olivia, you are not going to win this just because you scream." I try my best to ignore her. Hitting a person lands her a time out but that's not working - she strangely enjoys time out and will even put herself there. I sometimes do a mommy time out when I will walk a small distance away from her (around the corner, into the bathroom, etc.) and set myself aside until she calms herself down. That helps to physically remove me from the situation and also reinforces that her behavior will not warrent a response from me, and certainly won't get her what she wants.



answers from Lancaster on

Since all her needs are being met, and you mentioned "after breakfast" it rung a bell for me. My son was like that and turned out he had some food allergies/intolerances.

It may be the terrible 2's on the horizon. But maybe it isn't her misbehavior but a reaction to feeling poorly: Either way, I would just spend 2 weeks writing down what she eats for meals/snacks, and then when she tantrums and see if there is any link. Usually things like corn, eggs, wheat, dairy, soy, nuts, artificial colors/flavors, are the culprit.

This is a more difficult age, though. They are like cranky teenagers! Hang in there - age 3 for us was glorious.




answers from Pittsburgh on

skimming through the responses quickly.

I think allergy elimination is a good thing to check.

There is a pattern in bad behavior and there is usually a 20 minute peak time until the behavior will change course. Make sure they are ok and ignore, ignore, ignore bad behavior. If it is a way to receive attention the pattern will change shortly when it is not yielding a response.

Good behavior -- reward, reward, reward.



answers from Pittsburgh on

I am so not good at this, I too, lose my cool. I particularly hate a tantrum at the table. What I do, is I just pick up my small child and put him in his crib, leaving the door open, and tell him when he is calm, he can come back down. It's a time out, but mostly for me. : ) Works well. I don't have to hear him screaming, and I can eat in peace. I explain why he is there, no carrying on at the table, and that he can join us when he is calm. Doing all this without responding emotionally to him at all is the way to go. I would not do as the one mom suggested, shutting the door, make sure a light is on -- you are getting a break, not scaring the child. Then I go up in five minutes or so, say are you ready to stop crying/carrying on? When he says yes, I bring him back down and things are usually fine after that. I do the same exact thing with my three and a half year old, so I think you can use this technique for quite a long while. When the older one starts whining about something, and won't quit when I tell him, he goes upstairs to whine. : ) I hate carrying on at the table, I just hate it.



answers from Harrisburg on

Barb's advice is just have to walk away. I used to go to my front porch. I would make sure my son was safe and then leave to preserve my sanity. I would take a monitor and turn it on every few minutes to check what was happening inside and I would go in when he was quiet.


answers from Pittsburgh on




answers from Pittsburgh on

Depending on how much sleep I'VE gotten, I either freak out right along with them, or sit back and look at them quietly. When they're a little older (I do this with my 3 yo now), I pretend to throw my own tantrum and a lot of times he starts to laugh and settles down. And when I start to lose it and just want to slap to daylights out of my kids, I go outside the door and sit on the front step for 2 minutes to cool off (I've gone out in pouring down rain and major snowfall!). Whatever works!



answers from Erie on

I have a friend who used "baby sign language" -- I don't honestly know the name of the book, sorry. When she talked to her child, she also signed, and the child learned to sign some of the words she couldn't form yet, and being able to communicate helped to stop the frustration and screaming.

The other thing you can do, is simply walk away. You have to be sure your child is safe in the high chair when you do it, so she won't try to get out and fall, but the old stand-by method is to simply walk away until the child is quiet, and then see what you can do.

I understand about the screaming. My first child could set me off, too. I don't know whether it was just the two of us together, or whether it was that I was young and wanted to be able to fix anything and everything, and it frustrated ME and set ME off into my own inner tantrum if I couldn't ? Whatever . . . with my 3rd child, I used to hold her and bounce her until she fell asleep, so she didn't cry herself to sleep in the crib. She did often cry herself to sleep in my arms, and I would just sing to her. Any song I could think of, cuz it was SO much better than yelling back. If regular songs didn't work, I tried hymns -- I figured they were very therapeutic. hee hee (Funny parrt of that is that my 8 yr old would be in bed in the next room at the time, and when I'd stop because I thought the little one was asleep, the 8 yr old would pipe up, "Keep singing, Mommy". So I sang more than one to sleep without knowing it!)

I think I'd really give the sign language thing a try. From simply things like, "Do you want to get down?", "Do you want a drink?", etc. As she learns to sign the word for down and drink, you may find that she figures out she can get what she wants, even if she knows the words and can't quite form them.

Good luck ! This is the hardest thing about parenting. It is SO hard to stay calm cool and collected when your emotions are tearing you apart inside. The key is to unlock the frustration inside her, and then the dramatics will begin to subside, because she'll be able to communicate more appropriately and get the response she's looking for, or at least get a better level of communication going.



answers from Harrisburg on

There is a workshop in April you might find helpful. I plan to attend because I have a son who will be three in June and I am due with a second baby at the end of April. I want to be prepared for any possible sibling rivalry.
Here is the info:
Tears and Tantrums: How to Be with Babies and Children

Saturday April 18, 2009 1-4pm $60.00

This half day seminar is designed for parents and caregivers to gain an understanding of the pysiological needs, functions and benefits of crying and tantrums, as well as improve their own comfort, confidence and ability to respond in a helpful manner. Tantrums are not only normal behavior, but they are great opportunities to actually improve your child's emotional health and well being, and strengthen your relationship with your child at the same time. This workshop will be adapted to suit parents with children of various ages.

Tears and Tantrums is being presented by Pam Moran. Pam is a Licensed Social Worker (LSW), Psychotherapist, and Childbirth Labor Assistant specializing in attachment and bonding, parent-child relationships, and the treatment of stress, trauma, and severe behaviors. Pam has almost 20 years of experience working within the mental health, social services, child welfare, and school systems, as well as parenting two children of her own. She works with parents to follow their instincts, and to use a love-based, relationship-focused paradigm of parenting for long term emotional health.
Pam is the owner and director of Center for Family Attachment and Healing, an organization providing attachment and trama-informed services.
To Register:
e-mail Holly at [email protected] or call ###-###-####



answers from Allentown on

Hi A.-

I definitely agree with the ignoring the tantrum...however...I also know that is SO HARD to do sometimes. My 20 month old son knows how to throw a good tantrum too. So sometimes my husband and I stamp our feet and whine and throw a tantrum back. He always stops and looks at us like "What is YOUR problem?" It usually works!! Maybe he sees how silly it is. And then we go about our business. It's worth a shot!
Enjoy her and hope we grow out of these tantrums soon:)



answers from Scranton on

I know it is hard to stay calm, cool, and collected during a tantrum, but it is best. My son did it to me at the grocery store one day. I was smiling and ambarrassed on the outside, but fuming on the inside. Actually, I think you should just walk away and ignore her until she stops. She is only doing it for attention. Once she sees the tantrum won't work, she will realize it is a waste of time doing it. Once she calms down, you may want to talk to her calmly to see if something is bothering her.


answers from Philadelphia on

I have a 15 month old and the tantrums are starting. I know it's hard, but try three deep breaths. I mean really deep and slow, which will most of the time prevent you from having a reaction you'll regret, like yelling. I've been doing something that's silly, but it's worked so far. When my son has a melt down, I roar like a lion. Not mean or scary, but just in a silly way, kind of empathizing with his anger. Once he sees mommy being silly, he "usually" calms down and smiles back at me. I've not tried this other method yet, but I've also heard that when a toddler is having a fit, just put him in his room and shut the door. We'll see how that goes. ;-)


answers from Allentown on

Hi A.,

You can stay calm by acting like the baby. She will stop sooner than you think.

Good luck. All the Best. D.



answers from Pittsburgh on

When our daughter started screaming from a tantrum, I or my husband would just pick her up and deposit her in her pack and play (if we were downstairs) or her crib (if we were upstairs), walk out of the room, and not return until she quieted down. Then we would ask her if she was ready to be calm now, and take her back out. She has seemed to pretty much get the message and we rarely need to do this anymore. It has the advantage of keeping us calm as well, since we get away from the screaming, and lets her know that people don't want to be around her when she acts like this.



answers from Pittsburgh on

I HIGHLY HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend Positive Discipline Ages 1-3 by Jane Nelson. It was recommended to me by a therapist as THE way to discipline your child without breaking their spirit.

Good luck - I know what you are going through!

C. - mom to 22 month McKenna Grace


answers from Pittsburgh on

Hi A.. Boy do I remember those days! Your best bet is to put her in a playpen or in the center of the floor where she can't hurt herself. Then look at her and quietly say: "when your done let me know." then walk into the kitchen and do dishes, make dinner, clean the bathroom, sit at the dinning table and pick up a book (even if you can't read a word cause she making you NUTS). Ignore the behavior!! When she calms down (and she will once she figures out she doesn't have your full attention) tell her quietly that her behavior was wrong, give her a time-out, take away a toy, whatever punishment you think is best and then forget about it. It is really hard to stay in control and calm, but it will work for you and the more you stick with it (and hubby too) the faster it will work until the tantrums are a thing of the past. IF you are out and she starts leave at once and go home! If that means you must forgo shopping, dinner whatever for a night then so be me you will only have to do that a couple of times before she figures out that you are serious and won't tolerate tantrums and they will stop. Stay strong, don't compromise and don't over-react! Best wishes.



answers from Allentown on

It must be incredibly frustrating when you feel as if you're doing all the right things and nothing works--you feel like someone--your child--is telling you that you don't know what you're doing!

But remember that screaming at anyone who's mad is like tossing gasoline on a fire, and screaming at a 17-month old baby isn't good for either of you.

First practice calming or relaxation techniques when you're NOT mad--when she's asleep and looking angelic, right before you go to sleep, etc. First, just BREATHE: stop and exhale slowly for about 5 seconds, inhale slowly for 5 seconds; do about 5 times (and the moment she starts to wail and you feel the heat of your anger building, DO THIS!)

Let your demeanor be the EXACT OPPOSITE of hers--the more out-of-control she gets, the more calm you get. As long as you know that she's physically OK--not about to hurt herself, etc--just watch her, as if you were a biologist and she were a very interesting specimen of bug. Just watch, and wait, and BE VERY CALM, and wait for her to get tired of screaming. No child ever died of screaming.

Children's emotions can be like a runaway freight train--they get angry, or tired, or whatever, and don't know yet how to regulate those emotions--and they learn from YOU how to calm down. When she starts screaming, your behavior shows her how to react--if you get angry, the whole thing escalates; if you are extraordinarily calm, she will (eventually) learn how to calm down.

This is why sometimes "time out" works and sometimes it doesn't--it didn't work for my daughter--for us it was like abandoning her when she most needed love and support and guidance, so we'd just stay with her calmly (in spite of her meltdown) until she gained control.

Best of luck!



answers from Philadelphia on

I feel your pain and have been there over and over!!! I wish there was a magic trick to stop the tantrums but unfortunately they are a normal part of growing up... For our children and for us!!!! I have been told and have tried it to ignore the behavior and go about your business. Sometime I think kids just need a melt down... Just like mommy! I have had good results where the tantrum does not last as long if I leave the room or go about my business. After a while when he calms down I will talk to him and encourage him to "use his words" so I can help him. Side bar I have noticed I seem to do alot of teeth clenching during this time!!!! I children are wonderful but at the same time a challenge!!!! C.

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