My 3 top tips for preventing the toddler tantrum

What is the best way to control a toddler? How can I stop my child from throwing a tantrum? Why wont my child listen?

I think when I tell people what I do, more often than not it is these sorts of questions that parents fire away most desperately. In search of that magical answer that will return to their arms that precious bundle of compliance and chubby cuteness to replace the obstinate temper tantrum throwing little minx that they need to go and watch sleeping, just to remind themselves how much they really do love them.

The answers are not always easy, otherwise there would be no tantrums at the supermarket, or wails of “no” when told to go to bed or stubborn refusals to wear a jacket despite the arctic like temperatures. Each child is different, each family situation is unique  and the interactions and communication between parents and child is an intricate battle of emotions that sometimes means we are unable to remove ourselves from the situation and engage in any rational thought. But as I am in the middle of toddlerhood with my 4th son, I have managed to learn a thing or two about toddler behaviour and I stress that whilst nothing is full proof nor comes with any guarantees, I have come up with my 3 best tips to tame a toddler and get back to enjoying their charm.


By far one of the most widely used of my tools for tantrum prevention, the simple art of distraction has been known to stave off the fiercest of explosions. You know your child better than anyone, so use that knowledge to keep one step ahead. When you feel the pressure mounting or see something you know they will ask for,  (cry, scream or stamp their feet for) think quick to divert attention, change the topic, point out a dog/bird/spider, sing a song or remind them of a past experience that they enjoyed, divert their pathway, keep them talking and hopefully they will soon forget that there was ever even a brewing storm  (and singing kooky songs with silly actions is also a great way to get a baby to eat and changing the nappy of a baby with the escape artist skills of Houdini can be made somewhat easier with some crazy blurts and sneezes).

Give them a Job

Kids love to feel like they are helping so put them to work.  We often don’t give them enough credit and find we are doing things for them that they are perfectly capable of doing themselves. Make good use of this eager to please stage whilst they are young as the novelty does somewhat dissipate with time and other pursuits. But again if you start early it becomes more routine rather than chore. When I go to the supermarket I remind my 2 year old that I will need some help with the groceries, that he will have to help make the baby laugh if he gets restless, that I need help lifting the items out of the trolley. I get him to pick out the apples, carry the bread and help me decide what flavour yoghurt. If you are cooking get them to sort out some tupperware, when washing get them to count the pegs or put them in colour groups…….anything to make them feel like you really need them there!

Give them power but retain control

Let them make the choices for the little things so that they recognise that they have some say in the proceedings. Focus on these things but be sure to take control of the bigger decisions. For example, give them a choice of 2 options, both of which are agreeable to you. “Do you think we should put all the blocks away first or should we put the books back on the shelf?  Shall you wear the blue coat or the red coat today? Obviously there are times when they are not going to like either choice and in these times of non-negotiable  enforcement, it is all about standing firm and putting up with the short term pain of a tantrum for the long term understanding of knowing who is ultimately in charge.

Again there is no full proof answer and certainly there are different behaviours that require different tacts, but I am certainly able to enjoy many more good moments than bad, (and probably more so than with previous children) by implementing these simple elements to help us all get through the grind and have more time for the fun stuff.

What have you found works well with your kids?  

Click here for some more tips on getting your children to cooperate that focuses on our language, tone and choice of words.

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This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Heidi

    Great post Marty. Although we are through the two’s we are still having the occasional tantrum at three, -well ok maybe just a bit more than occasionally! I find my number 3 little man so much more prone to tantrums than the other two ever were – each child differs enormously and what works for one doesn’t always work for the other. One strategy that I have learnt along the way is to not ask a question when there is no other choice. For example I have wasted years asking ” Ok who wants to go to bed” how riduculous when does a child ever willingly go to bed, so now it lots of warnings and “ok time for bed NOW”. So we are working it out along the way and giving Mr three the time and space to begin to learn how to self regulate his feelings!!

    1. Martine

      That is so true Heidi. i just listened to this mum ask her daughter 5 times if she wanted to go to timeout? “Ah probably not since you are giving me the option”!

  2. Really helpful tips, thank you. Distraction is my preferred method; normally I start doing a silly song and dance act, but its hard when I’m in a grump too!

    1. Martine

      Absolutely it can depend on our own moods! We are not always going to feel like dancing around the high chair, so for those times you just gotta do what you can!

  3. Née Say

    Great points. Shame that is is so hard sometimes to keep them in mind when your primal urge is to tantrum right back at them! Fatigue is such a huge contributing factor to how well I manage a tantrum. Distraction is definitely the most effective with my boys – who are easily distracted by bright shiny things ;P

    1. Martine

      Umm arnt we all distracted by big bright shiny things! And yes I think keeping that primal urge under wraps is the key…although not always easy.

  4. Great post!I am lucy and haven’t had any tantrums but I think this is excellent advice. Rachel x

    1. Martine

      Thanks Rachel…hopefully then you won’t need it, but i find they can be adapted to prevent many other behaviours, such as anxiety in older kids or a wriggling baby that needs changing!

    1. Martine

      Thanks Yvette, hope your night improved 🙂

  5. Jess

    Some good tips. I’d disagree with the last one though. I find that giving choices actaully excercabates tantrums, because it does give them the illusion or control. I prefer instead, to train them when they are young to just do what they are asked, and they learn to comply pretty quick I’ve found. 🙂

    1. Martine

      Thats great Jess. Its important to do whatever works for you. I do stress though, that kids always do need to know you are in control, but sometimes putting them in charge of some of the decision making helps them with this process later on when they must learn to make decisions on their own 🙂

  6. Pink Ronnie

    Agree with all your points! We also do the naughty corner/timeout thing and try to do it as consistently as possible. It seems to work pretty well, and when it doesn’t, it’s usually cause we haven’t been consistent with it…
    Ronnie xo

  7. Emily

    Great post. I like that you mention that tantrums are necessary sometimes so that kids understand who is in control. It’s too easy to just keep distracting because it’s easier! Thanks.

  8. Grace

    Thanks so much for these tips, Martine! Would I love is that you’ve narrowed it down to 3 main points…which will be so much easier for me to remember and refer to whilst I’m dealing with two toddler tantrum eruptions!

    1. Martine

      Thanks Grace for your kind words. And I don’t think it matters what age your kids are, the sooner you start thinking about all the issues they will face, the more prepared you will be and those little almost sub conscious talks can creep into your conversations 🙂

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