Family Health

The Screams of the Season

Avoiding temper tantrums

The best that I can, I try to avoid taking my children with me holiday shopping. 

It never fails, that my children’s wants do not match up with my to-do list. I try to avoid tantrums to the best of my ability, especially with the stresses of the holidays.  Now that my children are older, we see fewer temper tantrums, but I still see them day to day, in my office, the grocery store and the mall. 

What is a temper tantrum?

Temper tantrums are made of anger and distress. Anger is usually shown at the beginning of a temper tantrum and then starts to decrease. Distress behaviors (crying) are constant throughout. 

Seventy-five percent of 2-year-olds have had at least one temper tantrum in the past three months. Tantrums are prevalent in the 2-year-old set and very common in 3-year-olds. They then become less frequent over the next few years.  

"Developmentally, temper tantrums peak as fear and aggression are at the highest because toddlers don’t have the means to communicate their needs. Therefore, telling the child to “use your words” is not the best advice if they are frustrated with what they are trying to convey to the parent and they don’t have the words yet." 

Dr. Elizabeth Walenz
Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician

How to best control a temper tantrum?

  • Make sure your child is safe. Do not let them run into street, if they are at risk of running, hold them in a hug.
  • Let your child work through it. 
  • If you are a passerby at the store when a child is throwing a tantrum, keep your advice to yourself. Do offer the parent and child some space. 

Calming the storm

If a temper tantrum is a storm, the parent’s job it to be the container to keep the child safe and talk about it afterwards. Parents should ask themselves, what is the reason behind this tantrum? Was it attention-seeking for either positive or negative attention? Was something at stake such as snack or a toy? Or was the child trying to escape doing an activity such as bedtime or bath time?

Tantrums can peak when a child is tired, hungry or at the height of frustration.

Tips to avoid tantrums while out in the holiday bustle

  • Make sure your child is getting plenty of sleep.
  • Travel with provisions. This does not mean candy. A mandarin orange, string cheese or granola bar are perfect options to make sure your child does not reach a hunger low.
  • Know your limits and your child’s limits. If you have a long "to-do" list and your child is coming along, tackle only a few items per day.
  • Give your child time to roam. A bit of fresh air during the day can help to restart or help the child to distract from building fatigue.
  • Stick to your child’s schedule. If you try to skip nap time, count on a meltdown. Children are creatures of routine, so stick to their meal and sleep schedules.
  • Praise good behavior. Children respond well to positive praise.

Help with strategies

If you are having troubles with tantrums and your child does not respond to discipline or a time-out, talk with your child’s Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician about different strategies to help ensure a happy, healthy holiday season. 


About the Author

Pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Walenz loves seeing kids grow as well as helping them lead long and healthy lives. She is especially interested in nutrition, growth and development.

Dr. Walenz sees patients at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

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