How to handle your toddlers tantrums

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Information & Advice

Written on28/07/2010

How to handle your toddler's tantrums

What do you do on those awful occasions when your toddler is determined to throw a tantrum? Dr Martin Ward Platt, a consultant paediatrician, has some suggestions

They may be known as the "terrible twos" but, in fact, your child's awkward period could start before they've even reached 18 months.

"It's a stage of a child's development where they're testing the world around them and their tolerance level is very low but it can be very tricky for parents," says Dr Martin Ward Platt, a consultant paediatrician at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary.

"However careful you are, there will be something that sets your little one off so managing the situation becomes one of those things you have to do as best you can."

Martin – who has worked in children's medicine for 20 years – has a number of tips that can make life easier for parents faced with a toddler temper tantrum.

Steer clear

"It's very clear that certain responses from parents don't work. For example, although I'm not aware of any scientific evidence, I don't think you can bring a child out of a paddy by smacking them," he says.

So a physical reprimand, as well as being controversial, may not be terribly effective. Besides, if your child sees you losing control too, they may think it legitimises their own tantrum.

Equally though, Martin warns parents not to go overboard with bribes or rewards."It's not good to reward that kind of behaviour," he says. "If your toddler's tantrum results in them being plied with sweets, it's not going to discourage the child from doing it again."

You can try distracting your child before a situation develops into a tantrum, which may work.

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Just walk away

But, if your child is determined to fly into a temper tantrum, there is very little you can do to prevent them."You have to accept there will be things that will get your child upset and frustrated," says Martin.

So what strategies can a parent adopt to help them ride out the tantrum – and persuade their offspring that howling the house down might not be the best course of action?

"As long as your child is having their tantrum in a safe place – for example, in a home environment, with no sharp corners around – it's perfectly reasonable for parents to walk away from the situation," advises Martin. After a few minutes, the tantrum should stop – particularly once the toddler realises their antics are being ignored – and life can return to normal.

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"It's helpful if both parents adopt the same attitude towards the tantrums," says Martin. "Kids may always feel there's somebody in the family who lets them get away with things but, if you can strike a broad agreement on how you respond, it's really helpful."

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Supermarket weep

This is all well and good if you're secluded in the comfort of your own home. But, of course, toddlers can decide to unleash their frustrations anywhere.

Perhaps the most difficult place to deal with their woes is in a supermarket. Here you are also vulnerable to a "chain reaction" effect where one howling toddler can set all the other tots going.

If it's a large store then Martin suggests you move quickly down to the other end of the store. "Small, cramped shops are a bit trickier," he admits.

Sometimes, he suggests, keeping your child in the trolley seat can make them feel more in control and give you a better chance of engaging them. But, if the worst happens and your child flings themselves on the floor, all you can do is wait until their outburst subsides. "If it's your little one pounding the floor, you know they're not going to be able to sustain it for more than a few minutes," says Martin.

"It can be very upsetting for parents who worry they're disturbing everyone else in the shop. But, in the great scheme of things, it probably doesn't matter too much. Most adults have seen children behave the same way at some point and most people are actually pretty sympathetic."

Weather the storm

There is enormous variation on how long it takes a child to come through this turbulent period. Martin says, "It can depend a lot on the little personality your child is developing."

But, he has some words of comfort. "If you can weather it, your child will come out the other side and become much more rational and reasonable and controlled," he says. So hang on in there!

Find out more at BootsWebMD:
Taming a tantrum
Nine mistakes parents make with toddlers
Feeding a fussy toddler

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