Taming Temper Tantrums

A child who’s in the middle of a temper tantrum is a wild, uncontrollable creature who may scream, kick or hit anyone who’s nearby. The scene is unpleasant but not uncommon. Parents should remain calm and resist the urge to give in to their child’s demands. Communication, setting limits, and explaining rules can help control a child’s outbursts.

Why Children May Experience Temper Tantrums

Toddlers between the ages of 18 to 24 months most likely to throw tantrums. Their brains are still developing and, as a result, these young children have less self-control when they are upset. Toddlers often have tantrums when they cannot express their feelings in words. They may throw tantrums when they feel tired or hungry, so parents should make sure they are rested and well fed. They shouldn’t be overstimulated or taken out if they are tired.

Older kids create scenes if they are frustrated and feel they can’t communicate. Parents need to take time to listen to their kids each day. Reasoning with a child in the midst of a tantrum is usually unsuccessful, since children are too out of control to listen. Some parents give their children what they want just to stop the tantrum. This may put a halt to the screaming, but it also teaches kids to throw tantrums whenever they want something.

How to Deal With Tantrums That Arise in Public

Many parents share horror stories about being stuck at the supermarket or the mall with a screaming child. It’s awkward to deal with tantrums out in public, but getting angry and yelling usually makes the situation worse. Parents need to maintain their authority and composure. The child should be told that their behavior is unacceptable and given a choice — they can either calm down or you will remove them from the situation.

If it’s not possible to leave, the child should be given a consequence such as a time out at home. If the child is screaming in the checkout line, the parent should stay calm.

Sometimes parents spank their kids to quiet them down, but hitting hurts and does more harm than good. When you hit a child to discipline them, children become afraid of you and do not learn how to control themselves or how you want them to behave. Hitting a child may make them want to hit back instead of behaving better and teaches them that “might is right” and that they can hit others to get what they want. Hitting hurts the parent-child relationship and can become a bad habit for parents who don’t know what else to do, so parents should hit their children.

Children feel bad about themselves when they are out of control and punishing them only increases their sense of helplessness. Parents should ignore the outburst and pick a quiet time later in the day to discuss better ways of communicating.

How to Deal With Tantrums That Arise at Home

Parents should simply ignore a child who throws a tantrum at home. They need to know that they will not be allowed to disturb others and that you will listen to them when they’re quiet. They may need to be held to quiet them down, but you should not talk to them when in the midst of the trantrum. Once the child is calm, you can discuss what happened and how they could improve their behavior the next time they’re upset. Teach them to use words to express their feelings, suggest ways to politely ask for things they want, and praise them once they have calmed down.

Kids learn from their parents’ example. If parents remain calm, children are more likely to settle down too. By ignoring tantrums, parents let kids know that nothing is achieved by yelling and screaming. It’s normal for kids to throw tantrums, but adults can teach them better ways of expressing themselves that will reduce their tendency to fly into a rage.


The UPMC Healthbeat blog features several articles by pediatric experts where you can learn more about building positive relationships with your children, including:

UPMC also offers several parenting workshops, both virtual and in-person in the Pittsburgh area. A list of current classes and workshops can be found on this page.