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Help for dealing with temper tantrums

Child development

I can still remember the day my now 12-year-old daughter threw her first temper tantrum. We were at a supermarket in Brisbane, she was about two years old, and I had my baby in the trolley.

I had said no to buying her a lollipop. She went bright red, screaming, fists of fury pumping up and down, tears rolling down her face. And then, of course, she took off, ducking under the aisles so that I couldn’t reach her.

I decided the best way to tackle it was to stay calm and ensure I knew exactly where she was. But the looks from other shoppers were enough for me to try to schedule in future solo visits during the weekends when my husband was at home.

There’s no telling when a temper tantrum might strike, and while you can do everything possible to avoid them, it’s better to learn some skills and tactics to deal with them.

Experts say that handling temper tantrums can depend on the age of the child – they often start at about the age of one to two years old when crying turns to frustration. This is the exact age where most children are learning to name and express their emotions in the social world to have their needs met.

But they often don’t control their emotions and express themselves in ways that bring them positive attention.

In fact, tantrums aren’t about getting attention, the emotional outburst is often about experiencing an emotion they don’t know how to manage in a way that will bring them the support they need.

They might be a response because the child can’t do what they want to do, have what they want, or communicate what they need.

Goodstart Early Learning’s national lead social inclusion Penny Markham said in the midst of a tantrum it is important stay with your child and keep them safe.

“When they are having a tantrum is not the time to try to reason with them,” Ms Markham said. “Just let them know you are there for them using a warm, calm voice. As the tantrum subsides, guide your child back to what you were doing or where you were going by talking calmly to them so they know what to expect.

“Staying calm – even though it’s really hard - is key. Don’t let your child’s chaos be your chaos because this is the time they really need an adult guiding them to learn about how to manage their emotions.”

Plan ahead to avoid tantrums

If you are planning an outing where it is possible for the child to want something they can’t have, rehearse the outing and role-play positive behaviours.

When you notice how they are feeling you can also give them the words that match their emotions, so they can learn those words too, for example, “I think you are feeling frustrated, can I help you with your shoes?”

Be aware that if they are tired, hungry or thirsty these are situations in which a tantrum may be triggered.

If you are out and about, it’s best to make sure you have everything except the kitchen sink packed in your bag – bottles, snacks, toys and books are enough to keep most little ones interested.

By the time children reach about two and half years old, they’re starting to demand attention when they have tantrums. As they get older, they will learn to cope with most social situations such as disappointment, expressing a range of emotions that brings them the support they need.

Tips for dealing with challenging behaviours:


  1. Ensure that the child is safe from harm.
  2. If you are frustrated, take some time to calm down.
  3. If your child is still upset, encourage them to take some controlled deep breaths. This will help children to calm down and regulate their emotions.
  4. Once they are calm, talk to them about their emotions and what they experienced. Talk to them about what they should do if they feel that way again. 
  5. Naming a child’s emotions, such as anger, sadness, happiness helps children register the emotion.
  6. Give children the behaviour model to express the emotion. For example, if a child is angry, say “I can see you are angry and when you’re angry you can let me know.”
  7. Always look for the message behind the behaviour. Behaviour is a chid connection-seeking, not attention-seeking.
  8. Don’t give in to a tantrum and give your child what they wanted such as a lolly or toy. This will only serve to reinforce the tantrum as an effective behaviour.
  9. Show empathy and understanding. Parents and carers can help children manage their emotions by being stable, calm and understanding. 

For more on dealing with big behaviours, visit

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