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Temper Tantrums: What’s Normal & How to Respond

by | Oct 29, 2021 | Home, Play, School

We’ve all been that parent at the grocery store with a screaming toddler at one time or another. Some might consider it a rite of passage into parenthood—temper tantrums are just a part of life when you have a toddler.

These meltdowns can cause a lot of stress for parents, though. You may wonder how you should react and if your child’s behavior is normal. If that sounds like you, you’re definitely not alone.

Why do children have temper tantrums?

Temper tantrums are a normal part of your child’s development. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, they are especially common between ages 1 and 3. At this age, your toddler isn’t always able to communicate their needs and wants, which can lead to extreme frustration.

Of course, there are other factors that may lead to a temper tantrum as well. For example, if your child isn’t feeling well or has had a change to their normal routine, they are more likely to have a meltdown.

Some common causes of temper tantrums include:

  • Frustration with an activity or task.
  • Change in routine.
  • Being hungry, tired, or ill.
  • Wanting attention.

Keep in mind that children have different personalities and temperaments. If one of your children has more temper tantrums, it doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t giving them enough attention.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

How to respond to a temper tantrum

Tantrum behavior is often (if not always) disproportionate to the situation. As adults, we know that screaming and flailing our arms won’t fix our problems. But when your toddler is in the midst of a meltdown, they are unlikely to listen to reason.

The most important thing you can do is stay calm. Remember that temper tantrums usually only last for about 15 minutes or less. There are a few other dos and don’ts to keep in mind as well.


  • Talk about their feelings. It’s important to acknowledge your child’s frustration. Understanding their emotions will help them learn to handle difficult feelings. Similarly, it’s a good idea to take time to practice mindfulness techniques with your child.
  • Remove them from danger. Make sure your child has a safe place for a time out. If they are running toward the street or hurting themselves, you may need to hold them until they calm down.
  • Use distractions. Sometimes a silly song or a favorite toy may be enough to help your child calm down.
  • Take a break. Meltdowns can be tough to deal with. If you have a partner or a friend that can watch your child, even a few minutes can help. If not, take a few minutes to breathe or relax during your child’s time out.


  • Lose your cool. When you feel yourself losing patience, take a few deep breaths or leave the room. Your child learns a lot of their behavior from your actions.
  • Hit, bite, or kick your child back. Some parents may think it is a good idea to show their child that hitting and biting hurt by demonstration. This is not a good way to teach your child. Instead, calmly but firmly tell your child, “No, we don’t hit,” or, “We don’t bite.”
  • Reward a tantrum by giving in. It’s important to have consistent rules and expectations. In the long run, this will help prevent tantrums. Of course, there may be some times that you need to pick your battles.
  • Give extra attention during a tantrum. If you give your child extra attention during a temper tantrum, it may reinforce this behavior. As long as your child is safe, sometimes it’s best to ignore the tantrum.

Photo by Joice Kelly on Unsplash

How to prevent temper tantrums

While temper tantrums are a normal part of your child’s development, there are some steps you can take to avoid them.

  1. Have a consistent daily routine.
  2. Avoid outings or errands when your child is tired, hungry, or sick.
  3. Prepare your child in advance for transitions or changes to your routine.
  4. Allow your child to make some of their own choices throughout the day.
  5. Keep distractions (like toys or books) handy during errands or doctor’s visits.
  6. Avoid places or activities that usually lead to a meltdown.
  7. Set aside time every day to give your child your undivided attention.
  8. Praise your child for good behavior.

Should I be worried about my child’s tantrums?

Temper tantrums are common before age 4. As your child gets older and is able to use language to express their wants and needs, they should start having less meltdowns. Some children continue to have tantrums as they get older, but generally they decrease over time.

However, there are times when tantrums could be a sign of a problem. Between 5 and 20 percent of children have frequent, severe tantrums that become disruptive to daily life. In these cases, you will want to seek guidance from your child’s doctor.

Talk to your child’s pediatrician if:

  • Your child’s tantrums worsen after age 4.
  • Temper tantrums last longer than 15 minutes.
  • Your child has more than 5 tantrums a day.
  • Your child is harming themselves or others.
  • Your child holds their breath to the point of fainting.

Final Thoughts

If you are in the midst of “the terrible twos” with a toddler who throws frequent tantrums, remember that you aren’t alone. This behavior is usually normal. It’s easy to become embarrassed or frustrated if your child starts screaming and crying in public, but most other parents will know exactly how you feel.

As long as your child is safe, they will get through their meltdown—usually within a few minutes. Just keep an eye out for signs of harmful behavior. If you have any concerns about your child’s behavior, it’s always a good idea to talk to their pediatrician.


Daniels, Elizabeth, et al. “Assessment, Management, and Prevention of Childhood Temper Tantrums.” Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, vol. 24, no. 10, 2012, pp. 569–573., https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-7599.2012.00755.x. 

“Top Tips for Surviving Tantrums.” HealthyChildren.org, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/communication-discipline/Pages/Temper-Tantrums.aspx.

“Temper Tantrums: What They Are, How to Handle & Possibly Prevent Them.” Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/14406-temper-tantrums. 

“Temper Tantrums in Toddlers: How to Keep the Peace.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 5 Nov. 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/tantrum/art-20047845.

Lydia Mockensturm
Lydia Mockensturm

“Hi! My name is Lydia and I’m a freelance writer who specializes in parenting and education. I have a bachelor’s degree in English and worked as a teacher and tutor before deciding to stay home full-time with my two young children. As a mom, I’m passionate about early childhood education and am always looking for fun and practical ways to teach my kids at home.”