How to manage toddler tantrums

How To Manage a Toddler Tantrum

After working with many parents and their amazing children with specific special needs and even those without, I have found one common denominator – Behaviour challenges that are always hard to deal with! I thought I’d create this post and share some of the tips learnt over the years, influenced by behaviour experts’ theories combined with positive parenting techniques.

Before we dive in just yet, TWO quick (yet important!) pointers to remember:

       1. All Behaviour is Learned…But how?

Through repetition of course. The behaviour is repeated and is repeatedly followed by success, reward or reinforcement. These learned behaviours often result in strategies that your child uses to cope.


Little 4 year old Johnny is told that it is bed time. He screams and throws a tantrum; this is the first time he responded in that way. How his parents handle the behaviour may determine whether this becomes a learned behaviour or not.

Types of responses that may reinforce the behaviour to continue:

  • Negative attention from the parent – getting angry and emotional
  • Allowing little Johnny to stay up later = Success for little Johnny


       2. All behaviour is COMMUNICATION.

Your child may be trying to send the message that he or she is perhaps hungry, tired, in pain, uncomfortable, or simply having difficulty transitioning or interacting with the environment. Many kids also require a certain level of sensory feedback in order to regulate themselves and their environment. This may be in the simple form of a hug, comfort from you as the parent or simply space.


Okay, so now the fun part, right?! How do we manage these behaviours?

These simple principles can be applied in daily parenting to prevent and manage challenging behaviour. Choose what is suitable for your family unit and parenting style.

  1. Modeling – children will follow what you do, not always what you say! So make sure you are saying please and thank you, or being patient and gentle if you would like your child to elicit this too.
  2. Routine –  some form of predictability will help to prepare your child for what’s next, which in turn helps them better transition, regulate themselves and cope.
  3. Pick up on your child’s cues – know your child’s red flag signs for challenging behaviour and act before the behaviour occurs. This means meeting them at their point of connection and the need they may have.
  4. Shift the focus of the undesired behaviour and redirect your child to channel their behaviour toward something that is more acceptable. For example, throwing toys around the house can be redirected by allowing your child to exert their energies on perhaps throwing different sized balls in an outside area.
  5. Focus the attention on what you want your child to do, and not what they shouldn’t be doing. For example, rather than saying, “no, don’t shout at your brother”, you could say “be kind to your brother”.
  6. Provide choices for your child between options that are acceptable within your household.

Partner with your child – ultimately you are a team. When your child feels respected and valued and above all loved, it is much easier to thrive together.

The following behaviour management techniques are usually implemented for the more challenging, destructive behaviour that has already occurred. (These are listed from low priority intervention to high priority intervention)

Stop or Eliminate the behaviour in the following ways:

1.TIME OUT – often times, over-stimulation occurs, making it hard for your child to regulate themselves. This is frequently demonstrated by what may look like tantrums or other challenging behaviour. This could mean there is a need for a time out in a designated, calm space in order to recover. Other times children will act out specifically to go to this time out space. This means their communication patterns has to be rewired in order to know that they can get to their calm space by communicating in a different way. For example, when desired behavior is demonstrated (such as asking), their reward may be the option of spending time in this space rather than only waiting for a meltdown to take place.

2. EXTINCTION – BE FIRM, YET LOVING IN SETTING BOUNDARIES – Decrease facial feedback or even eye- contact during the display of the undesired behaviour. Sometimes children may seek this out as the reward.  Be neutral and calm, yet firm in setting boundaries. This means consistency until desired behaviour is displayed.

3. OVER-CORRECTION – This happens when your child decides to get messy when throwing the tantrum, thinking, “mommy will obviously clean the mess right after me.” Over-correction says, instead of mommy cleaning the mess, mommy is going to partner with Little Johnny to clean his own mess WITH her, whether it’s picking up all the toys or cleaning pee from the floor. In a way, it’s hand over hand facilitation to clean up!

4. SPANKINGS- Okay,  so I am in no way saying this should be your option. This is really a personal choice parents make. If this is what you decide, there’s two crucial things to remember – NEVER spank out of anger and secondly, make sure the child understands the reason for what you’re about to do and that you (as the parent) love them very much.

5. RESTRAINING – ONLY WHEN BEHAVIOUR IS SERIOUSLY HARMFUL TO SELF AND OTHERS – Remove Child from current position and Speak gentle loving words to him.

I have to mention that each child is uniquely different and this is in no way a recipe for disaster management.

As a parent, feel free to explore these strategies at your own discretion and see which one works for your child.

Make sure that when you try them out,  you are consistent and everyone involved in disciplining your child is aware of the strategies being used.

Also, these tips come with the additional “key points to remember” handout for parents below 👇

COMMENT your EMAIL below to receive your very own FREE Additional Behaviour Management Tips for Parents – PDF!

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DISCLAIMER: These tips will in no way replace any therapy the child is receiving. For consistent high priority challenging behaviours coupled with sensory behavioural issues, please consult with your local therapist.

Compiled by Tasha-Leigh Williams 

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