Handling temper tantrums

What is a temper tantrum? Is your child throwing a temper tantrum? How do you tackle temper tantrums? Experts share their advice.

father and daughter
17 June 2022

Every parent worries about children getting upset and throwing temper tantrums, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when the majority of us are at home. Understanding and finding solutions to these tantrums doesn't need to be tricky, as our experts share their tips in response to questions about temper tantrums and how to tackle them.


Is a temper tantrum normal?

A temper tantrum is an unpleasant and disruptive emotional outburst. It occurs because children are not able to regulate the anger that arises when they are prevented from doing something they want to or are not given something they desire.

Temper tantrums are considered a normal part of a child's behaviour from 1.5 to 5 years of age. They occur once a day and lasts typically from 5-10 minutes.


When is a temper tantrum not normal?

If these episodes are more frequent and are disrupting a child's routine and causing harm to a child, it is vital to seek professional advice and redress this behaviour.

To provide an appropriate response to a temper tantrum episode, you need to understand the stages of a temper tantrum. A tantrum episode can be divided into three stages, and understanding these stages will help you to respond effectively.

  1. Screaming, yelling, crying, and whining
  2. Falling on the ground, continuing to scream, stamping on the ground, rolling on the ground
  3. Continuing to whine


How do I deal with a typical temper tantrum episode?

Stage 1: For screaming, yelling, crying and whining

  • Move: Take the child to a different place.
  • Distract: Young children have a short attention span. Use it and try to distract the child and offer something else. Engage them in a different activity and take the child away from the environment of the tantrum.
  • Negotiate: Provide an alternative to what the child is asking/wanting.

Stage 2: Falling to the ground, continuing to scream, stamping on the floor and rolling on the ground

  • Ensure there is enough space/ clearance so that the child doesn't physically hurt themselves. 
  • Ignore and disregard the child's attention-seeking behaviour.

Stage 3: Continues to whine

  • Physically comfort and soothe the child.
  • Offer alternate activities/ objects to the child.
  • Nurture/comfort the child after the tantrum subsides. 


What are other things we can do to prevent such episode to happen in future?

We must adopt certain principles to help us respond/manage a child's temper tantrum behaviour. These include disregarding or ignoring the child's attention-seeking behaviour, comforting and soothing and nurturing/comforting the child after the tantrum subsides. Intervening early by distracting and negotiating is also key.

As a parent you need to:

  • Provide positive attention: Observe your child's positive behaviour and provide appreciation and rewards.
  • Provide choices: Give children the opportunity to choose and control minor things. For example, ask them 'Do you want an apple or a banana?'
  • Distract and negotiate: Young children have a short attention span. Please use it and try to distract the child and offer something else, engage them in a different activity, take the child away from that environment. Think about whether what your child is asking is something feasible before refusing. 
  • Know your child: If your child is tired, hungry, sleepy or cranky, try to avoid taking the child out, especially shopping. Please do not force the child to do something he or she does not like when they are sleepy, hungry and/or tired.
  • Make agreements: Make sure you communicate your expectations regarding their behaviour with your child. Make agreements with them regarding their demands (i.e. what is allowed and what is not allowed), and remind them repeatedly.

In these challenging times, make sure to create an environment of positivity at home to try to make children feel happy and relaxed.

Take care of yourself too - because if you are happy, your family will be happy.

Call CHILDLINE 1098 for assistance.

UNICEF India worked with leading mental health and child protection experts to produce this series of articles for parents on mental health and children.

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