Screaming, crying, flailing — the signs of a tantrum are often hard to miss. Tantrums can be challenging to deal with, but they’re a normal part of your toddler’s behavior. Doctors even have a formal definition of temper tantrums: “an emotional outburst of anger and frustration.”

Tantrums typically begin around age 18 months and reach their peak during the “terrible twos.” This is the period in child development when young children start to assert their independence from their parents.

It’s also a time when your child hasn’t learned to manage strong emotions and can’t yet communicate their feelings clearly. This combination is a perfect storm for tantrums.

Feeling tired, hungry, or sick can make tantrums worse or more frequent. In most cases, tantrums will happen less often over time. They usually become much less frequent by age 4.

While every child is different, there are strategies you can try that may help to calm your child when they’re having a tantrum or make tantrums less frequent.

Your child may display one or more of the following behaviors during a tantrum:

  • whining
  • crying, screaming, and yelling
  • kicking and hitting
  • holding their breath
  • pushing
  • biting
  • going limp
  • throwing items
  • tensing and thrashing their body

It may help to remember that tantrums are a common part of young children’s development, and your child’s tantrums are probably not cause for concern.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, the following strategies may help you manage your child’s temper tantrums.

Stay calm

Do your best to remain composed. If possible, don’t let your child’s tantrum interrupt what you’re doing, and try not to get upset. This lets your child know that tantrums aren’t an effective means of getting your attention or getting what they want.

Wait for a quiet time after the tantrum has subsided to discuss your child’s behavior.

Ignore the tantrum

If possible, pretend that nothing’s happening, and don’t respond to your child’s demands.

However, some behaviors shouldn’t be ignored, such as kicking or hitting others, throwing objects that could cause damage or injury, or screaming for extended periods of time.

In these situations, remove your child from the environment, and take away any objects that could be dangerous. Calmly tell your child that their behavior is unacceptable.

Remove your child from the situation

If you’re at home and your child is unable to calm down, try a time out. Take them to a quiet area that’s free of any safety hazards. Here are some tips for time outs:

  • The recommended length of a time-out is 1 minute for each year of a child’s age, up to a maximum of 5 minutes. So, a typical time-out for a 2-year-old is 2 minutes.
  • The goal is for your child to calm down and remain in the time out space until the time-out is finished.
  • You can try setting a timer to keep track of the time. The beep will signal to your child that the time-out has ended.
  • If tantrum behaviors continue after the time out, start the time-out again.
  • With older children, you can try letting them decide how long to stay in time-out. Ask your child to come back from time-out when they feel ready.

If you’re out in public, it’s best to ignore the tantrum unless your child is in danger of hurting themselves or someone else. In that case, the best response is to stop what you’re doing and leave with your child.

Try distractions

Sometimes, it works to offer your child another activity or object, such as a book or toy. You can also direct their attention toward something interesting that’s happening around you. This might be enough of a change to distract them from whatever was causing the tantrum.

Acknowledge your child’s frustration

Letting your child know that you understand their emotions can sometimes help them calm down. Even if you don’t agree with your child’s feelings, you can confirm that you hear their frustration.

Try to clearly name the emotion your child is expressing. This can help your child learn to identify emotions over time.

Comfort your child

Sometimes your child may simply need comforting. This doesn’t mean giving in to demands. You can try holding your child and talking with them calmly until they settle.

Temper tantrums can be tough on you and your child. Here are some ways to connect with your child after the fact and help them understand your expectations.

Praise your child when they behave well

Show approval when your child behaves well. This can include hugs, smiles, and verbal praise. It’s just as important to reinforce good behavior as it is to try to decrease unwanted behavior.

Create an incentive chart

You can try displaying a simple chart with routine tasks like “get dressed” and “brush teeth.” When a task is completed without disruption, place a sticker or check mark on the chart to draw attention to your child’s good behavior.

Don’t ignore behaviors that can harm

It’s not unusual for a toddler to occasionally throw things, bite, kick, or hit during a tantrum. Your child may not yet understand that they could be causing pain or harm.

But whenever this kind of disruptive behavior happens, it’s important to immediately remove your child from the situation. Clearly and calmly tell them that their actions are not acceptable. Be consistent whenever it happens to help your child learn.

Help your child feel noticed and loved

Sometimes children have tantrums because they’re feeling sensitive or like they aren’t getting enough attention.

You can try to understand their needs by talking with them, reading books about feelings together, and giving them lots of positive attention when they aren’t having a tantrum.

Sometimes tantrums will happen despite your best efforts to prevent them. But the following strategies may help to make tantrums less frequent:

  • Establish a routine. A consistent routine or schedule lets your child know what to expect. This can make it easier to transition between different activities in your child’s day.
  • Be a role model. Children look up to their parents and are constantly observing their behavior. If your child sees you handling your anger and frustration calmly, they’ll be more likely to mimic your behavior when experiencing these feelings.
  • Give your child choices. When appropriate, give your child two or three options and allow them to make a choice. This will give them the feeling that they have some control over their circumstances.
  • Help your child get enough sleep. This will help prevent tantrums caused by being overtired. Try to create naptime and bedtime routines to help your child get better rest.
  • Encourage good eating habits. It’s normal for toddlers to have a “picky eating” phase. Feeling hungry can make anyone irritable, and this includes young children. Do your best to include healthy foods in every meal, and choose nutrient-rich snacks whenever possible.
  • Pick your battles. Don’t fight over small things, such as which clothes your child prefers to wear. Try to limit the number of times you say the word “no.”
  • Keep your tone positive. If you want your child to do something, try to offer an invitation, rather than make a demand. When it’s a matter of safety, it’s best to be direct and calm.

Every child is different, so try out different strategies over time to find out what works in your situation.

Tantrums are a normal part of growing up, and they’ll most likely go away with time. But in some situations, tantrums are a reason to talk with your doctor. This includes if your child:

  • has tantrums that are getting worse over time
  • continues to have regular tantrums after age 5
  • holds their breath and faints
  • has tantrums lasting longer than 25 minutes
  • injures themselves or someone else during a tantrum
  • may not be meeting their developmental milestones

Although breath-holding is a normal tantrum symptom, it’s important to discuss it with your child’s doctor. In rare cases, it can indicate an underlying health condition.

Every child grows and develops at their own pace. But certain skills and behaviors are usually expected to emerge at particular ages. These developmental milestones can help a doctor know to look for certain health conditions.

It’s best to talk with your doctor if you feel your child may not be meeting their developmental milestones. In some cases, tantrums could be related to developmental delays or sensory issues.

If your child’s tantrums are affecting your relationship with your child or have you feeling unsure about how to cope, it’s always best to contact your child’s doctor.