Surviving Toddler Tantrums Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Surviving Toddler Tantrums

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A toddler having a tantrum

Somewhere around the age of eighteen months-to-two years, our once-angelic little ones seem to morph into monsters, huge things with countless flailing arms and legs. They seem to lose the ability to talk and replace conversation with screams and sobs, with an abundance of tears and snot mixed in for good measure. Simple tasks like shopping become an absolute nightmare and, across the globe, mothers are wondering whether aliens really have abducted and replaced their children - take heart if ever they did they would bring them back in an instant. Feeding and bath time can become intolerable, but, if you can watch them as a bystander, incredibly funny.

The Tantrum

Typical tantrums can last for minutes or drag on half the day if the child is feeling particularly badly done to. Kicking and screaming are common features as are children throwing themselves onto the floor, flopping down onto furniture, standing rigid, going completely limp, or just refusing to cooperate. The most common phrase used at the age of two and a half is 'I don't want to'. To which a good reply is 'I don't want to either, but we're going to'. Taunts of 'I hate you' which can be hard to take from your little bundle of joy often follow. It is worth pointing out that they don't really understand that phrase at this juncture even though it is sometimes said with real venom and again a good reply is 'Well, I still love you.' Just remember the toddler is learning how best to manipulate his parents and emotional blackmail is one of the first tools he will pick up.

Staying Sane

There are several ways of dealing with toddler's tantrums. One approach is to accept that every child will go through this to some degree and see it through calmly. Those of us who want to emerge the other side of this with at least some remnants of our sanity have to take a rather more logical tack. Some tried and tested methods include:

  • Ignoring the child
  • A reward system
  • Occupying their minds
  • Time away
  • Persistence


Ignoring children who are mid-tantrum works wonders, even if it means walking away from the child, leaving them screaming and hitting the floor in a supermarket. As soon as mum or dad has retreated to a safe distance, the audience is withdrawn leaving the child with no one to play up to. Of course mum or dad should still be able to see the child and collect them when their encore is done. You also have to learn to be thick-skinned and smile in the face of disapproving onlookers who will no doubt insist on offering an alternative.


Rewarding toddlers for their good days is another good way of ensuring five minutes of peace. Parents should not look on this as bribery, and what if it is... if it works? Brightly coloured stickers offer an alternative to sweets and act as a good reminder as they last longer. But there has to be a balance, you can't reward every good deed otherwise the child will not learn to do it purely because it is good (and, handled right, they will, eventually!). Sometimes, simply praising the child is all that is needed.


Occupying their time is a fantastic way of easing the tantrums, if you have the time. The more time toddlers spend immersed in an activity the better. Finger-painting is a wonderful activity loved by all toddlers and their feet and hand prints are something for parents to treasure later. Of course you can not do it all day every day. Finding a local mother and toddler group helps too, on a number of levels. It gives the children a chance to socialise and make friends, but also allows mums to look at the way other toddlers behave for their parents. The realisation that ninety-nine percent of the other mothers do not have a little angel either is both welcome and comforting.

Time Away

At this point, you might feel that you do not want to look after your child, so why would anyone else? But getting someone reliable to baby-sit for even the odd hour here and there is bliss. Everyone has to have time out for themselves. Even if you just go home and clean the paint out of the carpet, or off the walls or ceiling. An hour without a screaming toddler can be all that is needed to face the onslaught of another week.


Once you have embarked on this epic journey of toddler-taming and defined clearly your boundaries and rules, stick to them. Children need routine and a sense of stability. Make sure parents, grandparents, relatives, your childminder or anyone else who cares for the little darling is aware of what you are doing and is on hand to give support but more importantly to continue what you have started. Beware, though, of doting grandparents. Your own parents and Parents-in-law also morph at this point into the grandparents from hell, offering such words of wisdom as 'you call that discipline', 'why don't you take that child in hand' or even 'You were never that bad'. Grandparents can cause problems at this point as they will chose the opposite method of discipline to that of the child's parent. It seems to be genetic. At the same time, mothers suddenly become the victim of their own personal hate campaign, with members of the public stopping them in the street to give advice on how best to deal with the screaming, seething mass that has taken up residence in the pushchair.

Sometimes it is impossible to prevent a tantrum from getting to you. They can be the most tiring and heart-wrenching of experiences, especially if you go through them on a daily basis. This would be a good cue to spend five minutes away from the child. It's not the same as abandoning your little one, and everyone will benefit from some time to cool down. Putting him in his room with a stair gate on the door or in a play pen or cot and walking away for five will not do him any harm. Use the time to do the crossword or watch TV and have a coffee. This is much better than becoming frustrated with him and lashing out in response. Eventually he will realise that the tantrum is fruitless as it has resulted in him having to amuse himself, instead of mummy or daddy, who is much better at it.

Above all unless the behaviour is really excessive then don't worry, they will grow out of it at their own pace, and then you can think about facing potty training!

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