Temper Tantrums: Why Some Call this Milestone the “Terrible Two’s”

Mar 22, 2023 | 3 Minutes Read

“No! No! No!” Your adorable child’s face is now angry and loud and their eyes are fixed hard on anyone or anything but you. They do not want to  . . .  fill in the blank. And you get the sense that they’re fully aware that they seem to be in charge in this moment. Temper tantrums—what’s a loving parent to do?

Toddler temper tantrumsToddler temper tantrums

When Temper Tantrums Start

When tempers flare parents are often left bewildered! This can be such a challenging phase for parents to manage, so much so that some parents become extremely fearful of taking their child out into the public. “Will she have another fit of screaming, kicking and wailing on the ground?”

Even as the strongest parents feel sympathy for the parent of the toddler making a huge scene, most if not all parents are afraid that at some time their child may make a big public ruckus!

Tantrums leave even the best of parents bewildered as to whether this is normal? Am I doing something wrong? And the one question every parent seems to ask—when will this behavior end?

Toddler Temper Tantrums Are a Developmental Phase

Remember back, just a few short months ago, when your sweet little one was limited in their ability to communicate their needs and wants with us as we catered to their every need?  You were working hard, parents, to anticipate what your little child may need next. Your son or daughter learned “my parent has got this!”

And our kiddos rest—and sometimes test—that reassurance. This was expected and appropriate at that time because our babies were totally dependent on us for their every need. But what about now?

Right around age 1, babies start to develop a sense of independence and choice—sometimes refusing a beloved toy or pushing a new food away. And as our children move into the toddler phase, even more things start to change. For example, we start to expect our children to begin to comply to our wishes, instead of the other way around.

Some toddlers have a harder time than others making this adjustment. Your toddler may really put you to the test one tantrum after the next. Managing tantrums begins with recognizing that your child feels ignored, is struggling to convey an unmet need—like a long over-due nap, for example, or simple hunger—and they want your attention. They’re willing to use both their voice and their body: NOW!

How to Handle Temper Tantrums

Your pediatrician has likely told you that tantrums are a developmental phase that often begins around baby’s first birthday and that should resolve in their frequency and intensity by baby’s 3rd birthday. And of course, there are times when you should never ignore a tantrum, such as if your child is at risk. Some kids can also get really physical during tantrums and kick or bite. They may scream endlessly, no matter where they are. If your child is getting overly physical, stop them immediately letting them know that this behavior is not acceptable.

There are few if any parents who haven’t at least once been fully tested by the full-on tantrum. In these instances, it’s all about the child’s safety, well-being and return to a more calm and controlled state. Here are a few things you can do to start that journey back to the sweet child of mine moments and learn how to stop temper tantrums:

  • Be understanding! Your child doesn’t have the same range of control over their physical body and their emotions as may an older sibling, cousin, or friend. Remind them that as they’re growing older, they need to use their big kid behaviors, which as kind, nice and helpful behaviors.
  • Stay Calm. When your child is having a tantrum, losing your temper will not help. Maybe your child is trying to get your attention or perhaps they’re simply hungry or overtired. Check your schedule—have you built in enough breaks into your child’s day? Could they be hungry? Tired? Need their potty training pants changed?
  • Hold your ground. Remain patient, calm and in control. If you don’t, you’re teaching your child that their bad behaviors can become a tool to get whatever they want. Stay firm in your responses: Let your yes’s be yes’s, and you’re no’s be no’s. This creates trust and respect, even when your child may not be happy with your response.
  • Engage your child during their temper fit to help them bring themselves out of it. Use questions they can answer about choices such as “do you want a snack or some quiet time?” “Would you like to put on this sweater if you’re cold?” “Let’s go out to the car to talk about this together.”
  • Flip the script. Ready to help your child learn to appreciate words of affirmation and acknowledgement? Instead of waiting to scold your little one for bad behavior, catch them doing something good and heap on the praise!
  • Finally, Be Patient. Don’t expect your toddlers fits of anger to resolve quickly. As your child ages they develop more ways to communicate their feelings and needs to us so that we can address them and support them. Being consistent creates an environment of trust in their parents’ care and consistency in their love and support.

Prevention is Better than Cure

Know your child’s limits to reduce or eliminate tantrums altogether. When you’re going to have a long day of errands, bring along a new or long forgotten toy to keep things interesting for your little one. Pack healthy snacks to nibble on to keep hunger at bay. Limit the number of hours you’re out so that you can keep well established nap routines. And remember to compromise on the fly—find a quiet place to park the car for a quick nap for your little one if home is too far away and you’re facing a meltdown.


LaShea Haynes, MEd, MSN, APRN, AGCNS-BC, RNC, C-EFM is the Editor of Healthy Mom&Baby magazine. Her nursing career spans 26 years, and she is founder and owner of her own nurse mentoring and education company. The information of this article has been prepared by nursing experts of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, & Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). The content should not substitute medical advice from your personal healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations/diagnosis or treatment. For more advice from AWHONN nurses, visit Healthy Mom&Baby at health4mom.org.


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