Skip to content

#MomLife: Tackling tantrums

What do you do when they rear their ugly head?
A.M. Cullen: "As fully grown adults, we pride ourselves in being able to manage our emotions, and it's sometimes easy to forget that their little brains haven't developed these skills yet."

Well, these days our little one has officially started to showcase her feelings loud and proud (as has most of Facebook), so I figured this might be a good week to tackle tantrums. From my research and experience, here are a couple tips to keep those meltdowns manageable.

Why do they happen?

First things first, why do our tiny tots tantrum? As fully grown adults, we pride ourselves in being able to manage our emotions, and it's sometimes easy to forget that their little brains haven't developed these skills yet. Some toddlers have tantrums often and others have them rarely, and they can range from whining to full body kicking and screaming – and they are all part of normal development. Because toddlers often can't tell you what they want, what they feel, or what they need, it’s frustrating. And sometimes, until they learn the skills necessary to manage that frustration, manifests quite loudly. (After all – no one likes the feeling of not being heard.)

Be Proactive!

Give Positive Attention

When you can, give your child lots of praise when they are displaying good behaviours. Researchers have found that children who receive lots of physical and emotional attention not only see an increase in their early childhood development, but also a reduced risk of emotional and behavioural problems later on. So cuddle away!

Give Choices

When you're little, it can feel like there is nothing in your world you control. Imagine if someone made all your decisions for you – what you eat, when you sleep, what you wear, where you go, etc. To help give your toddler the feeling of control, try offering choices whenever you can. Whether it’s using the blue or red cup at lunch, or wanting 2 or 5 more minutes at the park, offering choice can make a world of difference.

Keep the things they can't have out of sight

Out of sight, out of mind! Does your tot tend to always seem to go for all the things they are not supposed to have? Instead of wrestling it away from their wee vice grip and sparking a fit, do a sweep of the room and put all "no-nos" out of sight and out of reach.

Consider their request

Pick your battles. Is what they are asking for that unreasonable? My tot kept going after our old DVD remote. Solution? I took out the batteries and now it's all hers. She wanted to help unload the dishwasher? Now she gets to take out all the spoons and I load all the knives at the back of the washer.

Be aware of your tot's routines and cues

As Snickers has been advertising for years, we're never ourselves when we're hungry – and neither is your little one. Try and stick to daily routines as much as possible and avoid outings during mealtimes and nap times. If the schedule is predictable, it's easier for your tot to feel safe and comfortable.


Talk to your child about what is happening in their day. When you frontload (warn the person what is happening next before it happens), it gives your tot some time to process and understand upcoming changes. It can even help to have a visual schedule with pictures of the day's activities. Using "first, then" language can also help when talking about changing activities, like "first we go to Canadian Tire, then we go to the park."

What to do mid-meltdown

Despite our best efforts, tantrums still happen. So what do you do when they rear their ugly head?

Keep your cool

First and foremost, you want to remain calm. You are your child's role model for calming behaviour and by keeping your cool, you encourage your child to deescalate their behaviour.

Respond to the function of the behaviour

Each response to a tantrum is different, depending on the function of your child's behaviour. Generally speaking, behaviour stems from four motivators: attention-seeking, wanting something tangible, wanting to escape the situation, or a sensory concern. Determining why your child is acting out can help you respond in an effective way. Sometimes they may just need a cuddle, sometimes a snack, or sometimes removed from the space. If you'd like to learn more about functions of behaviour, the internet has tons of resources including this article from Parent to Parent that explains it well.

If needed, find a quiet space to calm down

Sometimes, we meltdown in the middle of the grocery store. Though it can feel embarrassing (don't – we've all been there), sometimes the best thing to do is drop everything and leave. When your child is in full swing crisis mode in the escalation cycle, often they need a quiet space to calm down and come back down to baseline again. There's no shame in leaving a full shopping cart mid-aisle. If you'd like to learn more about the escalation cycle, here's a handy resource.

Don't give in

Most importantly, and I know it can be tempting after multiple tantrums, you cannot give in to your child's demands. If you do, all you've done is reinforce that that behaviour is effective in getting what I want.

Thankfully, most children grow out of tantrums by age 4, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Take proactive steps and keep in mind that it is just their little brains growing. If you know someone with a feisty little one (or someone with an angry social media account) who could use these tips, please feel welcome to pass it on. Before you know it, your tiny tot will be a fully grown adult able to manage their own emotions and solve problems in a productive way.

A.M. Cullen lives and writes in Fort St. John. Are you parenting in the Peace? Send in your questions, topics, or suggestions for #MomLife to cover at