If You Dread Toddler Tantrums, A Psychologist Wants You To Know This

The next time you're in tantrum city, take a big breath and remember Dr Kennedy's advice.
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If there’s one thing absolutely no parent enjoys, it’s navigating toddler tantrums.

The explosion of emotions can be hard to handle, with parents reacting in a range of ways – whether ignoring their child, begging them to stop or gently trying to talk them out of it.

It can be stressful, not to mention embarrassing, when you have to carry your child out of a shop in the surfboard pose because they’re screaming the place down and trying to throw things about.

But it’s important to remember it’s not a personal attack – and your child can’t help themselves.

Clinical psychologist Dr Becky Kennedy (@drbeckyatgoodinside) explained in a TikTok video that tantrums can be “so misunderstood.”

The mum of three said: “Tantrums are not wilful acts of disobedience. Tantrums are biological states of dysregulation. A tantrum is a child’s way of saying: ‘The feelings in my body feel so big and overwhelming that they’re exploding out of my body in behaviour.’”

During a tantrum, children are actually “desperate” for a parent’s help to feel grounded and safe again, she suggested.

So, for parents dealing with future tantrums, she recommended flipping your thinking about what a tantrum actually is.

“The next time your child has a tantrum, keep this in mind: my child isn’t trying to give me a hard time, my child is having a hard time,” she advised.

How to ride those rocky tantrum waves

Dr Kennedy recommends saying something like: “It’s okay to be feeling so bad. I’m right here with you, sweetie.”

And then it’s simply a matter of taking a big breath, staying calm and waiting for those earth-shattering emotions to pass.

The NSPCC recommends trying to distract your child with something else, like a book, or drawing their attention to something nearby. The charity suggests that if your child is angry, it can help to tell them you know how they feel.

There are also some things you should avoid doing, such as giving in if your child has asked for something and you’ve said ‘no’, and bribing them with sweets or treats. This is because they’ll come to think that tantrums will get them what they want.

And remember, things will ease up over time. By the time a child is four, temper tantrums are a lot less common. Thank goodness for that.