How to deal with your toddlers tantrums without using time-outs and punishments | toddler tantrums | 2 year old tantrums | 3 year old tantrums

How to Deal With Your Toddler’s Tantrums Without Using Time-Outs and Punishments

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Do you want to know how to deal with your toddler’s tantrums without using time-outs and punishments?  Here is one simple trick to help with toddler temper tantrums.

I have been working a lot this week. I work part-time out of the house but it’s not spaced regularly throughout the month. And there was a special project that meant I had to put in long hours this week. I was out of the house for 10 hours a day, so basically most of Squish’s awake time.

Since she’s used to having me around a lot more, this did not go over well.

I got home a bit before her bedtime last night and did the unwinding routine with her. All seemed good. Then suddenly a switch got turned on and unleashed a loud, emotional toddler tantrum.

Distraction didn’t work. Singing her favorite songs didn’t work. Offering her favorite stuffed animal to cuddle didn’t do a thing. Even her beloved soother (try not to judge us too much, she only gets it rarely now!) didn’t stop the tantrum.

I felt stuck and the temper tantrum was not letting up. Everybody parents differently but I don’t like leaving her to deal with those big out of control feelings by herself.  We don’t do time-outs or put her in her room by herself to finish the tantrum alone.

Related parenting content:

How to deal when your toddler tantrums

So I took a deep breath and said to her “I think you missed mama today.”

The screaming decreased by a couple of decibels.

“I think you’re mad and sad because I haven’t been home very much.”

She was starting to listen a tiny bit now (while the temper tantrum was still happening).

“I can understand you feeling upset. I missed you too. I’m here now. I will stay with you. I’m not leaving you when you’re feeling this way”

At that she cuddled into me and cried. The tantrum had crested and was receding.

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One simple trick to help your toddler when they’re having a temper tantrum

When you are dealing with toddler tantrums and distraction and other techniques aren’t working, or even before using those other techniques, try empathy. Toddlers brains are developing so quickly. They don’t have the ability yet to think things through and express how they’re feeling. But as their parent we can try to help them by saying we understand.

I try to remind myself when we’re in the throes of a temper tantrum that she’s not trying to be difficult, she’s having a difficult time.

There are many things in a toddler’s life that could lead to toddler tantrums:

  • You just had a baby and your toddler is adjusting to the new addition and their new place in the family

  • A parent has been working longer hours

  • The toddler started daycare or preschool

And there are the simple everyday events such as:

  • You gave your toddler milk when they really wanted water

  • You gave your toddler milk and they wanted milk but now they changed their mind

  • They wanted to dress themselves but then couldn’t do it and got frustrated

Final thoughts on how to deal with temper tantrums

There is a lot in a child’s life that is out of their control. Instead of punishing or withdrawing from a temper tantrum, do the opposite.  Lean in.  Tell them you love them.  Tell them you are there and you will stay with them until they’re feeling better.  This isn’t enabling them or “encouraging bad behavior”.  They will learn to control their emotions with time as their brain develops, and with support.  During a tantrum is not the time for explaining or teaching or having a rational discussion.  They just need to feel like someone is there.

Quick note: If you as the parent are getting way too frustrated or even angry from their temper tantrum then by all means make sure they are in a safe space to flail and kick and remove yourself until you calm down.

If I had thought that my daughter’s temper tantrum was only about something trivial and left her in a time out until she calmed down, how would this have made her feel?  She was missing her mama, that was a likely underlying feeling.  A time-out would have exacerbated her feelings of me not being there.

There is no single magic bullet that will stop all toddler tantrums in their tracks.  I know this won’t work every single time.  But staying with them and supporting them through (this book on positive parenting has helped me out so much!) it will make them feel less alone with their big scary feelings.  And it just might shorten the length of their temper tantrum.

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How to deal with your toddlers tantrums without using time-outs and punishments | toddler tantrums | 2 year old tantrums | 3 year old tantrums

How do you deal with toddler tantrums?

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  1. So great to get on their level and relate! Control is huge, and feeling understood is something even the youngest toddlers know. Great job momma!

    1. It’s a work in progress over here! 😉 But it makes me feel so much better when I can control my temper with her temper and relate to her.

  2. This is a such a great reminder what toddler tantrums are all about and being sympathetic to all those big feelings inside those little bodies 🙂

    1. Exactly Jill! Sometimes (when I’m in a good head space myself) I feel sorry for my toddler when she’s having a tantrum – she’s not trying to do it on purpose and she’s obviously not having a good time!

  3. I completely agree about the need to lean in to them when they are having a tough time. They are learning about their world and how to manage emotions and this is all very new and confusing. Although it can be frustrating to have a toddler tantrum on your hands, giving them a great big hug and trying to get into their world can totally be the answer. Thank you so much for sharing this!

    1. Totally. It can still be really frustrating and the sound can sometimes drive me a bit nuts (!), but I really try super hard to see it from her point of view with her little developing brain 🙂

  4. You’re so right! My 3yo gets frustrated easily and has tantrums. It helps when I tell her “I see that you’re frustrated.” or “are you frustrated?” I keep trying to tell my husband she has a lot of feelings she doesn’t know how to handle yet.

    1. Yes, they’re still learning to handle so many things and they’re so little still! They need so much help, especially in the hard times!

  5. I’ve been trying to do this more and more. Trying to help her describe her feelings when she’s frustrated etc.

    However when she’s tired, it seems like anything you do including being sympathetic or leaning in only makes her more angry lol. Sometimes I just have to let her know that I’m here when she’s ready and continue doing things near her (putting away something). She often comes up and wants a hug and to tell me what she needs or literally just says “I’ve stoped crying now” with a smile on her face.

    1. Sara, that’s so sweet! (“I’ve stopped crying now”) Yeah, there is nothing that will work on every kid on every tantrum unfortunately! lol You’re doing an awesome job helping her know what her feelings are.

  6. Empathy should come long before distractions and timeouts or anything of that nature. I always take a step back with my daughter to try to locate the source of why she may be acting out. And I always take the time to get on her level and communicate with her. She’s only 15 months and it helps so much. And not only that, but it sets a positive tone for how you speak to your children as they get older as well.

    1. Yes! It doesn’t help my daughter’s patience if I get impatient with her tantrums, and it doesn’t help her anger if I get angry at her when she’s having a tantrum. Very good point about it setting a positive tone for the future Keating!

  7. Tantrums always stress me out and I have to remind myself to be still and listen to my kids. You are so right, empathy is so important and sometimes when my daughter is upset she will now just ask for a hug to calm down.

    1. Sometimes they stress me out too, especially the loudest or longest ones 😉 That’s so awesome that your daughter will ask you that! She is obviously learning from you one of the ways to make herself feel better. <3

  8. Well, kids! What can I say?? I am only waiting for ours to grow up a bit faster…lol. Although, they also say you should enjoy their toddler years while it lasts!

    1. 🙂 “The days are long but the years are short” never felt truer since having a kid! How old are yours Enoch?

  9. Stephanie says:

    Thank you. I should print this and laminate it to carry around. I work outside the house 6 days/ week. Im usually tired when I get home. I have 3 toddlers – 4 years and twin 2 year olds.
    My adult brain cant process the drama and screaming sometimes. This was exactly the pause button I need to remember during those times.

    God bless you

    1. Oh mama, I hear you. It’s hard to know how to deal with your toddler’s tantrums and the screaming can get to the best of us. You have three little ones so that can be a lot of noise at the end of a long day for you. I’m glad you found this post helpful. <3

  10. I love this idea!! I love trying to figure out what’s bothering my toddler just by talking to him. It seems like it really does help him tell me what’s bothering him. These toddlers are such a handful, but they’re such a blessing!!

    I wrote a similar post about Understanding tantrums at
    So if you could please check it out and let me know what you think.
    Thank you!

    1. Glad you liked these ideas on how to deal with toddler tantrums! Toddlers can really test our patience, or we can use them as an opportunity to practice our patience. They’re not easy, but I agree, they are awesome! 🙂

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