Ask Mama Dina: Taming the Toddler Tirades

I’m a word lover. I love them so much that I sometimes Google the definition of words just for fun.

So today when my toddler  threw himself on the floor and rag-dolled his tiny little body, screaming in pitches that Mariah Carey could never reach, I turned, walked away, and took my frustrations to Google.

First, I looked up the definition of ‘temper tantrum’:

A tantrum (or temper tantrum or tirade or hissy fit) is an emotional outburst, usually associated with children or those in emotional distress, that is typically characterized by stubbornness, crying, screaming, yelling, shrieking, defiance, angry ranting, a resistance to attempts at pacification and, in some cases, violence. Physical control may be lost, the person may be unable to remain still, and even if the “goal” of the person is met he or she may not be calmed. A tantrum may be expressed in a tirade: a protracted, angry, or violent speech.


Check, check, and double check. All confirmed. My boy is having a raging temper tantrum.
I had accurately defined the issue. Now it was time to find a solution to my problem.
I started to type into the Google search bar “how to stop toddler temper….” – and Google knew exactly what I was looking for. It completed my sentence with “….tantrums in 2 year olds.”
Am I the only one who feels a little relieved when Google reassures me (through predictive search words), that I’m not the only person who has Googled this enquiry?
I scrolled through the results of my search, and came across an article posted by Today’s Parent. In the article, the writer describes a few toddler tantrum scenarios, and provides tips/comments like: try to maintain your good humour when your toddler colours the walls with a Sharpie, they can’t anticipate the difficulties of stain removal (ya right, easier said than done).
She writes about the tantrum as a passing stage, that avoiding the use of the word ‘no’ could help alleviate the start of a tantrum, and that threatening, bribing or reasoning will have no affect as the toddler is experiencing an emotional short circuit.
While I appreciate the truth to these statements, they don’t help me to address the problem at hand. My child is lying on the floor, convulsing, shrieking, thrashing, and kicking. Why? Because he wants to have the scissors that I’ve placed on the counter out of his reach.
My first-born didn’t have tantrums, so this has all been new to me. When the tirades first began with my boy, I tried time outs, I tried holding him and cooing him in a soothing voice, and I tried talking it out – explaining why he couldn’t have what it was he was after. But none of it worked, in fact, it only progressed the wild behavior.
Still looking for answers, I took my questions to the best resource in the world, my mom. Her advice doesn’t only come from her experience as a mom – she ran an infant toddler daycare for 25 years, takes in foster children of all ages (many of which have special needs), and takes courses and studies medical journals in her spare time to learn everything there is to know about childhood development. She knows her stuff.
When I asked her how to deal with the tantrums, her answer was simple. She gave me these three tips:
1) When the toddler starts to get riled up (ie: my boy likes to try to put on his own socks, and when he can’t do it right away, he starts to growl and moan and grunt in frustration). When this happens, try saying to them in a calm voice, “it’s ok, just say, ‘help please mommy’ and I’ll help you.” Believe it or not, I’ve tried this, and it works.
2) It’s important to spend at least 10 minutes a day engaging in one-on-one child-led play (I’ll write more about this point in a later post). This helps to build their confidence and gives them control of something.
3) When the toddler is engaged in a full tantrum, say, “I’m going to turn my back until you have finished making a fuss.” Then turn around and don’t give them any attention until they’ve finished. She said don’t push them away or leave the room as they can feel insecure, but the important thing is to not give them your attention when they are acting up. No eye contact, no talking, just you with your back turned. Once they finish, you follow up with lots of positive reinforcement, hugs and kisses.
Note: if you’re not at home when this happens, try picking up your toddler, and taking him/her to a quiet place where you can use the same method, like the car or a washroom.
Remember that all children are different. There is never one solution that will work for all, but until I find what works for mine, I’m willing to try anything.
What do you to to stop the toddler tirades?


  1. I have to say I’m lucky that none of my three ever had raging tantrums. They had them, sure, but never to the extent that they were uncontrollable. I feel bad when parents get dirty looks from other people because their child is throwing a fit at the store or other public place. At one point or another haven’t we all been there? I think, your number three is one of the best ways of dealing with it. I find when they feel we ignore the acting out and they don’t have a captive audience, they will stop on their own pretty quickly.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Yesterday, because we had to leave from watching a loader on a work site, Matias screamed, arch backed, threw himself on the road, refused to walk, refused to go back in the stroller. It ended in me hobble walking with him kicking and screaming under 1 arm, while pushing a stroller + a kid with the other and yelling ahead to three 4 year olds to slow down. Do I have time to sit with him so he can finish his spaz? No. But I did try to not react or lose my cool. I just huffed the last 3 blocks home with my insane screaming almost 2 year old and smiled at the people who passed by and said cliche things like “woooo you’ve got your hands full” and “looks like SOMEONE is having a bad day”. I’m also pretty sure there was some under breath clenched mouth “sssssssstop it” mom hisses coming out of me. Mom life.

  3. I am also willing to try anything (except maybe an attempt at holding and cooing in a soft voice. I am certain I would come away seriously injured.)

    Interesting I have tried the three tips your mom gave and they have all been effective to some degree. (Smart lady, your mom.) Great post.

  4. Tantrums really are individual aren’t they? I thought we weren’t going to really have any but 2.5 brought them on with a vengeance. Frustration is one reason and the other occurs when I have to say NO to something because it’s totally dangerous or ill-advised. That’s where I walk away and wait. The walking away and waiting is much easier at home – not so easy on the sidewalk ;-P

  5. Oooo. I really hope I don’t have to deal with this as my girl gets older, but probably will at one time or another. Thanks so very much for these little bits of wisdom with a sprinkling of humour. Loved the intro paragraphs! Had to chuckle. Found you from Serenity Now.

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