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Tantrums are very common in toddlers. They get into things and places the parent previously kept them away from, and as a result start hearing the word "No."  Because the passion to explore is so strong, the child often ignores the "No."

When the parent enforces the request, the child may become frustrated; screaming, throwing objects, or falling to the floor and flailing his/her arms and legs about in protest.

Giving attention = more of the bad behavior

Acknowledging a behavior will result in the child repeating the behavior to get attention.

Ignore behaviors that can be ignored. Walk away from tantrums. The child will likely stop and follow you. For example, don’t make a big deal about a child throwing laundry. He will get bored and move onto another activity unless he gets attention, in which case it is guaranteed he will repeat the behavior.

Try redirection

When a child is doing something unacceptable, try redirecting him/her before disciplining, by saying things like:

  • "Who's coming?"
  • "Where's a certain toy, person, pet, etc.?"

Don't create an environment for misbehavior

Adjust the environment to prevent unacceptable behaviors from occurring. For example:

  • Cover electrical plugs.
  • Put breakable objects away until the child is older.
  • Put up gates and locks on cupboards.
  • Unplug the television or take the batteries out of the remote so the child is unable to turn it on.

Taking cues from you

By 15 months of age, children can learn what is and what is not acceptable behavior based on how the caregivers respond to them. The goal is to encourage the child to continue acceptable behavior and stop unacceptable behavior.

Do this by pointing out and rewarding acceptable behaviors. If a child persists in pursuing an unacceptable behavior (dangerous to themselves or others and/or destructive – like hitting or biting  people, or throwing things.) then the caregiver needs to intervene. 

Take a Time Out

I recommend time outs. If a child is pursuing an unacceptable behavior:      

  • Say to the child, "stop and if you continue you will go to your room."
  • If child continues the behavior take him to his room or another room close by and close the door.
  • Secure the room for safety before starting the time outs.
  • Be sure the child cannot open the door.
  • Set a timer (1 minute/year of age) - for a 15-18 month old 30 seconds is long enough.
  • When the child takes a breath to let out a scream and the timer goes off, open the door and say, "Now that you have been quiet and the timer went off you can come out of time out and return to your normal activities."
  • As the child gets older and can sit for a short period of time, the time outs can be moved to a chair in a corner - be sure the areas is not stimulating.
  • Acknowledge acceptable behaviors in a positive way.

Consistency is key

If the parent is consistent (reacts in the same manner every time the unacceptable behavior occurs), then over time the behavior will stop.

The child will choose behaviors that result in an enjoyable response from the parent.

Greg Severson, MD

Methodist Physicians Clinic Hawthorne Court (178 & Q)

Dr. Severson answers your questions about child development and parenting. One of the most gratifying aspects of pediatrics, for Dr. Severson, is watching an infant grow and change into a young adult. He is a natural teacher and he enjoys teaching parents how to provide the best care for their children. Dr. Severson loves kids and he is enriched by his interactions with them every day. He recognizes that children are unique and special. He hopes that his recommendations will help parents m ...

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