Tantrums with Tots – My Great, and Not So Great, 5 Guiding Rules

toddler hugging with her mother

Toddler tantrums can be frustrating and overwhelming. But with these tips, I’ve been able to handle them. The basics during a tantrum are often advised – stay calm and understanding, offer comfort and try to get them to talk about what’s wrong. All easier said than done. With two littles that have already started their screaming and wrestling matches over toys (or any random items at hand), I’ve had to live by these little rules.

My 5 Guiding rules for tantrums

I like mentioning it helps to remember that tantrums are a way for toddlers to release their frustration and anger. They are actually healthy and part of normal growth and development. But, they are still meant to be managed. Managing tantrums effectively, in turn, shows children how to manage emotions effectively.

I’ve pretty much memorized these 5 guiding rules, and I use whichever ones are needed depending on the situation we’re in. The breakdown of these 5 rules has guided me to know which ones to use and when.

  • Stay calm and understanding.
  • ignore the tantrum, but not the child
  • distract your child
  • give in (sometimes)
  • time out
a two year old tantrums

The breakdown of the tantrum rules

Stay calm

  • It can be hard to keep your cool when your child is throwing a tantrum, but it’s important to try. This will only make them feel more upset and out of control. Also, reacting negatively confirms to your child that these emotional responses are acceptable. You are allowed to give yourself time to cool down in these moments. As long as your child is safe, stepping out of the room for a moment to collect yourself will contribute to better management of the situation once you’ve returned.

Ignore the tantrum:

  • Ignore the tantrum, not the child. This may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the best thing you can do is simply ignore the overreaction. This rule mirrors the first. Don’t respond with an equal overreaction by yelling, or practicing any harsh discipline. Your child will learn that tantrums are not an effective way to get what they want.

Distract your child

  • If you can’t ignore the tantrum, try to distract your child with something else. This can be anything from a toy to a favorite song. Once again, this is not to ignore the child or the signs they are trying to get across to you. The distraction is a first step in getting them calm, giving you a chance to find out what the issue is and hopefully solve it.

Give in

  • Yes, giving in is one of my rules. This is the rule that is most situational. This comes up when I know what they want, it wouldn’t be dangerous, or inappropriate for them to have it, and I absolutely NEED the tantrum to stop at this moment. This rule at times mirrors my ‘distraction’ rule. Once they are calm and able to listen, I may explain why they cannot have said item, and then take it!


  • If all else fails, you can always try a time-out. This means putting your child in a safe place for a few minutes to calm down. Once they’re calm, you can talk to them about what it is they need, and/or what you expect from them. Again, the time-out is not to ignore the child, but rather to give time for the peak of the tantrum to pass before trying to discuss anything with them. I time-out can include the child sitting by themselves, or with you sitting beside them.

These are my honest methods. Great but not perfect, I find these are what work in our home, without ‘spoiling’ and without neglecting.

A tantrums solutions, food!

Avoiding the Tantrums

It’s important to know how to deal with these outbursts when they happen, as they can be both frustrating and embarrassing for both parent and child. But my most effective method is to avoid them as much as I can. This does not mean tiptoeing around them or giving in to everything they want. They are some simple guides I use throughout the day based on where they are in their growth and development. Here are the tips.

  • Try to avoid triggers. Tantrums are often caused by things like hunger, fatigue, feelings of neglect, or just boredom. If you can identify what sets your child off, you can try to avoid those situations.
  • Try to keep a regular routine for your child. This will help them feel more secure and less likely to have an outburst. Having some level of expectation of what is going to happen in the day gives the sense of control that toddlers crave. Oftentimes, changes in sleep needs can trigger fatigue and tantrums. This post on toddler sleep regressions covers the issue of sleep changes and behavior changes that tag along.
  • Provide choices. If your child is feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, giving them a few choices (such as what outfit they want to wear or what snack they want to have) can help diffuse the situation. This allows them to feel like they have some control over their environment, which can help prevent a tantrum from occurring.
  • Be consistent with your rules and expectations. If you tell your child they can’t have something, make sure you stick to that. (unless using that ‘give-in’ rule in our DIRE situations). They will eventually understand that the item is not for them to have.

When tantrums cue a visit with a health care professional

Although tantrums are a normal part of child development, there are instances where a health care professional can be involved. This article on ADD/ADHD in children is a great read if a parent feels their child may need more resources in terms of mood and behavior. `

Toddler tantrums can be both frustrating and embarrassing for parents and children alike. However, there are ways to avoid these outbursts from happening in the first place, as well as ways to deal with them when they do occur. In this blog post, I have outlined three tips for avoiding toddler tantrums as well as my 5 guiding rules for dealing with them.

Following these tips can help reduce the occurrence of toddler tantrums and make them easier to deal with when they do happen.

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