Toddler out of control and having tantrums?

Toddlers get angry and frustrated for multiple reasons and it’s important to keep some things in mind when your toddler seems to lose it in a split second and you end up with a tantrum or unanticipated behaviour that you may not like. If you want things to change you have to get to the root cause of why your toddler is out of control and having tantrums.


  • Frequently find yourself in a power struggle with your toddler?
  • Are you always having a war of words and eventually losing your temper with your child’s demands and behaviour?
  • All parents raising toddlers will at some stage think they are raising a different species as toddlers get an ever increasing ‘bad reputation’ for losing it anytime, anywhere.

To be able to handle poor behaviour from child it is important to first understand WHY does that behaviour happen?

You cannot apply a fix unless you know the cause of the problem.


Toddlers have limited language capability to express themselves and actions speak much, much louder than words so they show you their frustration in any other way that they can apart from words.

Intense behaviour comes suddenly but can go just as suddenly if handled correctly.

There are almost always warning signals before a tantrum that you may not have noticed, for example whining, refusals, silences, aggression towards a peer etc.

Toddlers have a pattern that forms over a period of time and as all behaviour is learned, it is good to remember that it can be unlearned, a bit like going on a diet, and learning new eating habits, you are re-conditioning the toddler to a new kind of behaviour not trying to eliminate the old one.

The behaviour is not the child – in Neuro-Linguistic Programming we say ‘the map is not the territory’, which in short means that instead of criticizing a person because of what we don’t like, we have to recognise that this is not the character of the person, it is a learned behaviour as a result of the person’s experiences. 

With a child especially we treat behavioural issues by focusing on the behaviour in isolation instead of saying ‘’you are a very naughty girl’’ (in effect I don’t like what YOU did, which is personal to the child), you will say ‘’that behaviour just now was not acceptable’’ (the thing you did was what I didn’t like – therefore separating the behaviour from the child).

For the child it is much easier to consider letting go of something you don’t like which doesn’t actually belong to them, than to correct something they think you don’t like about them specifically.  This critical definition will help you to see behaviour in isolation in the future and not create a potentially much bigger problem later.

It’s not personal. The child is not attacking or humiliating YOU as the parent – they are simply trying to show you that something they cannot express, needs to be expressed. However hard it feels for you at the time, remember that your child is not suffering anything other than an inability to express what they want in a way that you feel is appropriate.


1-What is the situation I am in – am in in a public place or in private, am I alone or among others?  It is important that any response you give does not embarrass or humiliate the child in front of others.

PUBLIC = Remove your child from the situation, go to a quiet place even if you have to leave your shopping and pick the screaming child up and carry them somewhere else first.

PRIVATE = read below

2-A child cannot hear anything that you are saying until they are calmer. Recall a time when you were angry and see if you can remember if you heard anything anyone said to you when you were in the heat of your anger – probably not. Therefore this step is to wait, let the child start to calm down, when they are crying less or sitting more calmly, this is the time to take action.

3-You need to be on the child’s level. Get down on the floor, kneel, or stand but be eye to eye with your toddler, whilst being careful not to appear intimidating and threatening. Stay calm!


  • Make sure that they are listening and state clearly – ‘can you listen to me for a moment now please’. If the response is positive then continue, if not then state once clearly ‘when you have calmed down, I will be over here and then we can talk’.  Move away but keep your toddler in sight and give the appearance that you are not even watching them – let them approach you.
  • When the child is ready to hear you, start by stating what it is that you considered not acceptable in very simple and clear language such as ‘ throwing things inside the supermarket is not acceptable’. ‘Tell me what you need and I will try to help’. If you get into a long story and too much discussion of why, how, when, what happened then the child will stop listening and your opportunity to correct the behaviour will be lost. They need to know what they did wrong and that you are willing to try to help them overcome it in future.
  • Do not keep repeating the problem over and over. Simply state that this thing that happened was not acceptable and then we move to distraction and absorbing the child in something else.
  • Ask the child would they like to apologise for the behaviour and make things better now? This is critical because it tells the child that the isolated incident you just witnessed is the reason you are cross but you still love them and want to let them try to behave more appropriately later on. Your intention is not to bully, blackmail, or force your child to change. Children naturally want to please their parents and much of toddler tantrum’s come from just simple frustration that a child cannot express themselves in the way that they want and they simply just lose control in their frustration at themselves, not at you, even if you are the one the anger or frustration is directed at, so it is important they know you will not tolerate certain kinds of behaviour but that this will not impact on your relationship and love for them.
  • Do not repeat the discipline under any circumstances. Do not tell your partner when you get home that little Johnny had a tantrum in the shop and you had to drag him out or this is like double disciplining and this will be counter-productive and cause even more tantrums.
  • Praise good behaviour. I cannot express how important it is to recognise the good behaviour your child shows you. This will encourage much more of the good and discourage the bad as the child will appreciate your attention and support and encouragement in these times and want more of that kind of interaction. Children will seek attention one way or another. Let the attention seeking be from a positive start rather than a negative one.
  • Do not reward with bribes and promises!. This will encourage your child to keep doing the bad behaviour in order to get a treat or a surprise afterwards and the tantrums will get much worse and increase in intensity every time you reinforce this behaviour by offering a reward for not showing the behaviour you don’t want to see. As with all aspects of caring for your child, you should only offer your time and attention as a reward and not items, sweets, promises of things in the future etc.

Remember that for a toddler a tantrum however long it may seem to you is a snapshot in time that seems like a split second. That is why these 3 little rules are a summary of your action plan for tantrums in the future.

ANTICIPATE – be ready and watching for the signs that your toddler is building up to a tantrum and try to diffuse them and distract them from it before it starts.

ISOLATE – deal with the tantrum privately, quickly and calmly without shouting, smacking, or any other form of humiliating punishment.

DISTRACT, FORGIVE AND FORGET – for the toddler, once it’s over, its truly over and there is no point in bringing it up thinking that you have another opportunity to teach them by saying, ‘remember when you did that bad thing in the supermarket’. Any form of child discipline or correction to behaviour has to be immediate and completed fully.

Move on and don’t hold on to the issues as it will spoil your relationship and your ability to deal with things clearly in future.  The easier and more calmly you take things whilst giving strong firm messages and no compromise, the faster your toddler will get the message that a certain type of behaviour is not going to work. It’s not going to make you angry, but its’ simply not going to work. They must also have an opportunity to say sorry, but don’t force this, it will come over time and not necessarily the first time you ask.

With these easy steps you should be able to fix your problem of toddler out of control and having tantrums, diffuse most toddler typical problem behaviours and encourage better communication and less tantrums at any time in the future.

If you would like to know more about issues like toddler tantrums, caring for your new baby, behaviour, teaching your child, potty training, and a range of other parenting issues, sign up to Sharon’s newsletter here and we will keep you in touch with all new posts as well as informing you of upcoming seminars, webinars, podcasts and training sessions that may interest you. Sharon also offers mentoring sessions for new parents or those with challenges that need more specific attention.

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4 thoughts on “Toddler out of control and having tantrums?”

  1. Hi Sharon

    “PUBLIC = Remove your child from the situation, go to a quiet place even if you have to leave your shopping and pick the screaming child up and carry them somewhere else first.”

    What would you suggest when your child tells you they are embarrassed by being removed from a situation?



    1. Hi Ian, thanks for your comment and your question. As I don’t have specifics such as the child’s age, what I can say is that I expect it to be an older toddler that would have the language to be able to express this.

      What is great is that the child is already becoming socially ‘aware’ since they are showing feelings of discomfort when they are challenged. Every child is different and a parent will know their own child’s tolerance and limits, but what is important is to deal with bad behaviour privately which is why I said ‘remove them from the situation’ first. They may tell you they are embarrassed but if they are left in public whilst you reprimand them it will be even more humiliating. We are not aiming for any kind of discomfort for the child, we are aiming to break the pattern, teach the acceptable responses and gently repeat until the child gets it that you won’t give in on this. Remember that even if a child expresses embarrassment later on, during the tantrum they cannot focus on what you say or even hear what you are trying to point out or negotiate with them. They are blocked at this time.

      Removing them breaks the cycle even if it is temporarily shameful for the child, over time and with gentle management this will reduce. With a child that has the language and comprehension that they did wrong, I would wait for them to calm down first of all and then when they tell you they are upset, ask them how they would like you to respond to them when they are showing you unacceptable behaviour. Give them a chance to answer and think of something and listen to what they say. This may guide you.

      They must still know the behaviour is not accepted and that you will work together to create a guideline they can follow, such as a 3 stage warning, where you clearly state ‘this is the first time I need to ask you to stop that thing you are doing now please’.. this is the second time and agree that on the third time, whether they agree or not you will have no option but to remove them from the situation. Be sure that the child who works with your co-operatively will still have times where you have to take control. It takes time to learn a behaviour and time to unlearn it.

      Distraction is key and being prepared to jump in quickly when a tantrum starts is critical as the longer it goes on, the more forceful it often becomes and the longer it will take the child to calm down and forget what happened

      Remember only deal with the situation once! Never reprimand twice or mention it again in a ‘remember when you were angry in that mall the other day’ One treatment for one episode. Be consistent and give clear uncomplicated messages using simple language, not long conversations and explanations. Simply ‘This thing you are doing is not acceptable,’ how can you help me and I help you to stop this happening’

      I hope that helps. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Having face 2 face stand-offs with your child.NLP can help you | Sharon Kamel

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