How to ward off toddler tantrums

Poppy is a former primary school teacher who, disillusioned with the state of the Education system did not return to teaching after having her second child.  Poppy is hugely interested in developmental psychology and is an advocate of empathetic parenting.  She is a qualified Forest School Leader. The Forest School movement, with it Scandinavian roots, is all based outside and focuses on the benefits of exposing children to nature.  The ethos is non-judgemental and nurturing rather than autocratic and scolding and is very effective with all children from an early age, especially those with additional needs or traumatic starts to life. Poppy now works as the Family Happiness Consultant to help parents who find parenting difficult and calm not only the children but the entire family.  

Learn more about Poppy via her website (to book private consultations and group workshops across East Anglia and London) and Instagram @familyhappinessconsultant 

Toddler tantrums are hard to cope with. They are loud, often inconvenient, sometimes embarrassing and they rarely make sense to us as adults. A tantrum occurs when a child is unable to express or act upon their needs, which is why they tend to lessen as the child becomes more competent and develops better communication skills.

Once a tantrum is in full swing there is no way of rationalising with a toddler’s immature brain, we simply have to keep them safe and ride it out. Since prevention is better than cure, here are six tactics to help you keep meltdowns at bay:

Learn their triggers – Each child has their own particular set of stimuli that are most likely to elicit a tantrum response. Often these involve feeling overwhelmed, out of control or trapped. Observe your child, make notes if it helps you, and discover the recurring themes to their tantrums. Keep in mind the five senses as these are easily overwhelmed in the developing brain; is the environment very noisy? Are there bright colours or flashing lights? Could there be a smell or taste your child finds unpleasant? Are they touching or being touched by something objectionable to them?

Being hungry or tired is likely to exacerbate any testing situation.

  1. Avoid difficult situations – Once you have identified their triggers you are able to reduce the time spent exposed to them. Of course you cannot always avoid loud noises, but you can choose a play date at a friend’s house over a busy playgroup in an echoing church hall. This can sometimes be hard if we have to cancel plans or disappoint others, but this period of our lives is short and most people do understand.
  2. Give them control – Toddlers tend to have every aspect of their lives decided for them; something most adults would find immensely frustrating. Offering frequent but limited choices can help give children more control and contentment. E.g. offer a choice of two tops in the morning; let them choose where to sit at the table; would they like to walk or skip to nursery; will you listen to music or stories in the car, etc.
  3. Say yes when you can – It is very easy to slip into the habit of saying ‘no’ to any request that seems slightly risky, messy, noisy, tiring, inconvenient to anyone at all, unconventional or ridiculous. Of course, plenty of these refusals are for good reason – toddlers do not fully understand their world and also have crazy ideas – but many are not, and these unnecessary dismissals can steal the joy from your days. Before you say ‘no’, ask yourself if you can say ‘yes’ instead, and watch the smiles come rolling in.
  4. Snacks – Whilst we do need to be careful not placate every tantrum with chocolate buttons, thereby creating an unhealthy emotional relationship with food, ensuring that you have healthy snacks about you will keep your child well-fed and prevent that particularly irrational ‘hangry’ feeling.
  5. Self-care – When your reserves are low you are unable to parent as calmly and positively as you would like. Your child will perceive and react to this negativity and a vicious cycle of grumpiness and fighting can ensue. Take care of your own needs to be the parent you want to be: your child will tantrum less and you will be better equipped to help them when they do.

If all else fails, remember they will not tantrum forever. My mantra when parenting gets tough is ‘This too shall pass.’

Learn more about Poppy via her website (to book private consultations and group workshops across East Anglia and London) and Instagram @familyhappinessconsultant