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Tempers and tantrums

Tantrums may start around 18 months, are common around two years, and are much less common at four. One in five two-year-olds has a temper tantrum at least twice a day. One reason is that around this age children often want to express themselves more than they are able. They feel frustrated and the frustration comes out as a tantrum. Once a child can talk more, tantrums often lessen.

  • Tantrums tend to happen when children are tired or hungry. Sleep or food might be the answer.
  • If sleep or food isn’t the answer, try to work out the reason and tackle that. It may be frustration. It may be something like jealousy. More time and attention and being extra loving, even when your child is not so lovable, can help.
  • Even if you can’t be sure why your child has a temper tantrum, try to understand and accept the anger your child is feeling. You probably feel the same way yourself very often. If you think about that, you may be better able to accept your child’s feelings.

  • When a tantrum is starting, try to find an instant distraction. Find something to look at, out of the window for example. Make yourself sound really surprised and interested in it.

  • If your child has a tantrum, try sitting it out. Don’t lose your temper or shout back. Ignore the looks you get from people around you. Stay as calm as you can, try not to get involved, but don’t give in. If you’ve said ‘no’, don’t change your mind and say ‘yes’ just to end the tantrum. If you do change your mind, your child will think that tantrums pay. For the same reason, don’t buy your way out with sweets or treats. If you’re at home, you could try walking away into another room.
  • Tantrums often seem to happen in shops. This can be really embarrassing, and embarrassment makes it extra hard to cope and stay calm. Keep shopping trips short. You could start by going out to buy one or two things only, and then build up from there. Once you’ve managed one quick trip without trouble, you’re beginning to make progress.
  • Some parents find it helps to hold their child, quite firmly, until the tantrum passes although a struggling child can be hard to contain. This usually only works when your child is more upset than angry and when you yourself are feeling calm and able to talk gently and reassuringly.

We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.