Expert advice for dealing with temper tantrums

Toddler tantrums are part of the development path. File image

Toddler tantrums are part of the development path. File image

Published Dec 13, 2023


Temper tantrums are a common and challenging aspect of childhood development that can leave parents, caregivers, and even bystanders feeling anxious and overwhelmed, experts have stressed.

But leading health-care provider Affinity Health believes that these challenging situations can be managed and defused by exploring the underlying causes of why children have temper tantrums.

“The neuroscience behind tantrums reveals that meltdowns happen due to the ongoing development of children’s brains,” Affinity Health CEO Murray Hewlett explained.

“They still need to acquire the coping mechanisms to manage intense emotions effectively.”

He added that there is hope for parents and guardians. “The good news is that most kids will grow out of temper tantrums as they learn to express themselves better."

Understanding temper tantrums

Hewlett explained that while toddlers possess various skills, temper control isn’t typically one of them.

“Temper tantrums are intense, emotional outbursts that often occur in young children, often between the ages of one and four,” he said.

These outbursts can take various forms, from crying and screaming to kicking, hitting, and even breath-holding.

“While temper tantrums can be distressing for children and adults, they are a normal part of child development and communication,” explained Hewlett.

Common causes of temper tantrums

Hewlett said that while every child’s tantrum trigger is different, a few common causes for meltdowns may include the following:


Murray said that youngsters often lack the language skills that is required to express their needs and frustrations adequately.

“When they encounter obstacles or cannot communicate their needs, frustration can lead to tantrums,” he said.

Seeking attention

Some children may use tantrums to gain attention from parents or caregivers.

But Hewlett warned that negative attention, such as scolding or reprimanding, can be just as rewarding for these youngsters as positive attention.

Fatigue and hunger

Tiredness and hunger can exacerbate emotions and lead to increased irritability in children, making them more prone to tantrums, Hewlett said.

Transitions and changes

Changing routines, such as playtime or mealtime, as well as leaving a youngster’s favourite place, can be challenging for them, and may trigger tantrums.


Excessive sensory input, such as noise, bright lights, or crowded spaces, can overwhelm children, making them more likely to have tantrums, Hewlett warned.

Independence and autonomy

As children strive for independence, they may become frustrated when their desires conflict with parental limits or expectations.

Emotional regulation

Hewlett stressed that children are still learning to regulate their emotions, and that tantrums can be a way for them to release pent-up frustration, anger, or sadness.

How to deal with temper tantrums

Hewlett explained that dealing with temper tantrums requires parents and guardians to be patient and empathic with their children, as well as to have practical strategies in place to deal with them.

Below are some of his tips for managing and diffusing temper tantrums:

Stay calm

Parents and caregivers must remain calm during tantrums.

“Losing your temper can escalate the situation,” Hewlett warned.

Ensure safety

Ensure the safety of the child, as well as those around them, during the tantrum, is of utmost importance, Hewlett said.

“Remove any potential hazards or objects that could cause harm.”

Provide comfort and reassurance without giving in to the child’s demands.

Hewlett advised acknowledging a youngster’s feelings, in a bid to find common ground.

Use distractions

Redirecting a child’s attention to a different activity or object can help defuse the tantrum, Hewlett suggested.

Set limits

Establishing clear and consistent limits and boundaries for behaviour is essential, Hewlett said.

“Be firm but loving in enforcing these limits.”

Offer choices

Giving children choices within reasonable limits can help them feel a sense of control, Hewlett recommended.

“For example, you might say, ‘You can choose between these two snacks,’ or ‘Which of these two T-shirts do you want to wear today?’


Sometimes, a brief time-out in a safe and quiet space can help a child calm down, Hewlett believes.

“You should explain the reason for the time-out and use it as a moment for reflection rather than punishment.”

Teach children emotion regulation

As children grow, help them understand and manage their emotions by teaching them techniques like deep breathing or using words to express feelings, Hewlett suggested.

Positive reinforcement

Praise and reward positive behaviour to reinforce good choices and encourage cooperation.

Seek professional help

Hewlett added that if temper tantrums are frequent, severe, or interfere with daily life, parents and guardians should consider consulting a health-care provider or child psychologist for additional guidance.