While they sometimes come out of nowhere, most parents eventually learn to detect impending temper tantrums before they hit. Tantrums for children of all ages are more likely when we are frustrated and irritable, typically in the context of being hungry (“hangry”) or tired, or both. Once the table is set for a mighty meltdown, Dr. Jenny Seawell (a.k.a. The Pediatric Ninja) describes the single-minded rationale for tantrums:

Tantrums happen with one goal in mind… Get What You Want.  That first tantrum may have started because knowing what you want and being able to express that desire is sometimes tricky when you’re little. While Jr. is shrieking, we parents are running around trying to figure out whatever we can to stop the high-pitched screams.   It doesn’t take long for a pattern to develop.  While we are still floundering around wondering where our angel child went, a lightbulb moment happens in that beautiful developing brain of your sweet baby.  And so the fun begins. It happens so gradually we aren’t usually aware that any subtle manipulation is going on.  And by the time we’re wise to it, it’s usually harder to break.

Tantrums tend to progress as our littles get bigger.  They may start due to struggles in communication, but then progress as they become more skilled in the art of negotiation.


Dr. Seawell offers a list of Top 5 Rules for Handling a Tantrum:

  1.  Keep your cool.  Tantrums are completely normal.  You getting upset only makes it worse.  So find your happy place and know that it can’t possibly last forever.
  2. Don’t give in.  Maybe your kiddo is screaming because they want that candy in the checkout line.  Once you’ve given an answer, don’t give in.  Consider a house rule for no purchases in the checkout line.
  3. Make sure you’re in a safe place.  A tantruming child will often throw themselves back in anger without regard for their surroundings.  If you are in an area where they could hurt themselves, transport them to a safer area and make your exit.
  4. Prepare if possible.  If you know that you’re heading into tantrum territory, lay down the ground rules before you go.  Give that 5 minute warning at the park.  Tell them in advance that no treats will be bought.
  5. Let the judgement go.  No matter what we do as parents, there will be someone ready to criticize.  And sometimes the looks from other moms might make you second guess yourself.   Try not to let it get to you.  Stay the course.  Setting some clear boundaries does not make you a bad mom, it makes you a GREAT one!


The PediaBlog has covered the topic of little people with strong minds before, here and here.

You can read more from Dr. Jenny Seawell on her blog, The Pediatric Ninja, here, and also periodically on the terrific Facebook page, We Are Pediatricians. (Really, if you use Facebook, please follow We Are Pediatricians to read excellent pediatric blogs from around the country, including The PediaBlog!)


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