Dealing with Tantrums

The Many Faces of Tantrums

The many faces of tantrums

About two months ago Frances started throwing tantrums.  They are your garden-variety tantrums that occur when you try and change her diaper or take away something she wants to play with that is off limits (like a phone or pill bottle) or offer her food she doesn’t like.

While it may be possible to reduce certain triggers, like baby-proofing tempting cupboards or only offering her food she likes, leaving her in a dirty diaper is not an option. Plus, I believe it’s a bad habit to give into her every whim, so sometimes she just has to put up with not being picked up as I finish my blog post.

Understanding that her tantrums are a result of not being able to communicate and being frustrated, tired or hungry doesn’t make dealing with them any more fun. The only thing we can do is whether the storm and not get too frustrated ourselves.

I think the hardest trap to avoid falling into is not using punishments or rewards. It’s not fair to take away something just because Franci is too young to communicate. And I don’t want to get in the habit of bribing her for good behavior. Especially since she probably doesn’t understand that concept yet any way.

For me, the worst part about tantrums at this age are knowing that she is so desperate to be understood, but just can’t figure out how to communicate. The emotions she is experiencing, like pain from teething, are hard to verbalize. I can show her the sign for pain a million times, but I don’t think she understands what pain is.

In an effort to get past this phase (that will inevitably last several years) I am turning to the internet for advice. BabyZone had a good primer on tantrums, and Baby Centre had some good tips, but the best advice comes from parents who have gone through the same thing. Of course, I have to wade through a bunch of less useful comments to find the gems.

What tricks did you use to get through your child’s tantrums? I’ll try anything!


  1. Melissa says:

    a few thoughts – from a humble parent of only one child so far, and teacher of parenting classes (trained in Common Sense Parenting – not a bad book to pick up – they have a book geared toward toddlers/preschoolers)

    1. I think you’re right that she’s too young to understand the positive/negative consequence concept, and her “tantrums” are really not negative behaviors that need positive or negative reinforcement at this point – like you said, it’s more about weathering the storm and getting the diaper changed – she has to live with the result even if she’s not happy.

    2. I think people have very different definitions of what tantrumming behavior is, from a tiny tot showing that they’re upset to an older child who may get aggressive, kick or scream or whatever, and some are certainly more preventable than others – with older kids I think ignoring that type of outburst is the way to see it decrease – NO ATTENTION given to behaviors, which inherently reinforce them, except for doing what’s necessary to keep the child and people around them safe (like hitting is unacceptable and you can’t ignore that specific behavior)

    3. just want to touch on the difference between “bribes” and “rewards” or positive consequences for behavior (and again this is more appropriate/salient for older toddlers than the age Frances is right now, but as she moves toward 2, you can start utilizing as many natural consequences as make sense to you, whether positive or negative. I think it’s important to differentiate between a bribe (which is offering a treat or reward while a child is MISBEHAVING, as a way to bribe them to stop what they’re doing and hopefully move toward what you’re asking them to do), versus a reward for good behavior that has occurred. For example, the child screaming in the checkout line, whose parent grabs a candy bar to buy for them and says, here’s some candy just please stop freaking out! (bribe that really just reinforces HAVING A TANTRUM), or a kid who you explain what the behavioral expectations are, they follow them (sitting in the cart, not screaming or hitting) and they make it through the checkout line in tact, you then praise them for it, and maybe offer a reward, like getting to go the park right away or choosing a special treat as soon as you get home (reward that reinforces CHOOSING POSITIVE BEHAVIOR AGAIN IN FUTURE) – just my two cents on why rewards are really helpful parenting tools, not just bribes like we are sometimes told.

    4. As much as we want our kids to obey us just because they “should” or we want to teach them the intrinsic value of doing right, we ALL depend on positive and negative consequences to shape our behavior (would you put in 40 hours a week for an employer without the consistent positive reinforcement of a paycheck?) How often would you speed without the threat of a ticket? As kids get older, their ability to develop morals and intrinsic ethics or values increases, but at toddler/preschool age, they’re a little more barbaric (lol) and have less capacity for empathy, so while we still teach and model how to develop empathy, it’s MORE important in my opinion, to follow through on positive and negative consequences that will increase behaviors you want to see and help decrease behaviors that you don’t want to see continue.

  2. Wow, Melissa, thank you for your insightful comment! I will be referring back to your advice as Franci gets a little older, and I will definitely be reading Common Sense Parenting.

Speak Your Mind