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Tidewater Parent


Temper Tantrum or Mommy Fail?

Question from Jen B.

Lately it seems that I am at a complete loss.  My two year old daughter is behaving so badly and saying some of the most hurtful things.  She is always negative, the answer to every question I ask her is no.  When she doesn’t get her way she is throwing things across the room or removing her clothes.  She is talking back when I ask her to do something, simply replying “no, I’m not!”  I am remaining firm and consistent and we use time outs in our house for discipline.  Is this the terrible twos or am I failing as a mom?

Dr. Ross responded by writing this amazing blog:

Even though temper tantrums are unpleasant, it is common and normal for children ages 2 through 5 to have them.  A temper tantrum is the way that your child expresses displeasure with a situation.  The younger your child is, the fewer resources they have to deal with frustration and anger in “more mature” ways.

Otto Rank, a Freudian Psychoanalyst says we are all born with a “will to be ourselves”.  Before we develop a mature form of will we start off with counter will.  Counter will is the first form of self-expression.  The way we first begin to express ourselves is by saying “no”.  Young children say “no” to everything, even things they like.  They delight in the fact that they can say no – this is actually a healthy developmental accomplishment.  A temper tantrum is a behavioral way of saying “no”, “I’m not going to do what you want me to do, I’m going to do what I want to do”.

Here are some ways to prevent temper tantrums:


  • Say “yes” whenever possible.  Saying “no” to a child frequently, frustrates them and increases the chance of a tantrum.  If you must say no, try the technique of saying no “in a yes sandwich”.  For example “you can’t have ice cream before dinner but you can have it as dessert as soon as you finish your dinner”.


  • Another way to avoid a tantrum is to anticipate it.  When you have to say no to your child’s request, and you know they will become upset try this – instead of saying no, distract them, change the topic, or make them laugh.  Children have a short attention span – they are relatively easily distracted.

Here are some ways to deal with tantrums once they occur:

  • Hug your child.  When you know your child is about to have a tantrum (or just beginning one) give your child a big hug, kiss them and tell them you love them.  Hold them close as this gives them a sense of security.


  • Distract them. Just as you can distract them before they have a tantrum, you can also distract them at the very beginning of one.  Make the tantrum “fun”.  Tickle your child, make a funny face, say something funny and then when they start to laugh hug them as discussed before.


  • Ignore them.  When children are in the throes of a tantrum one effective technique is to walk away and say “we can talk once you calm down”.  Ignoring the tantrum will usually “extinguish” that behavior.  Behaviors that don’t get attention usually disappear.


  • Time out.  For children who are a bit older (4 or 5) you can try time out.  This lets them know their behavior is unacceptable.  Time out usually doesn’t work with 2 year olds because they may not have the cognitive resources yet to connect the behavior (tantrum) with the consequences (time out).


  • Discuss a consequence.  This is also for older children who can understand (4 and up).   Discuss a consequence.  For instance, if you continue this tantrum you won’t be able to go outside to play with your friends this afternoon or, you won’t be able to have ice cream or, you won’t be able to watch your favorite show tonight.


  • Change the pace/change the location.  For younger children (2 or 3) you can try picking them up and putting them somewhere else.  You can also try to play their favorite song or offer them a toy that they like.  Changing the pace sometimes ends the tantrum.


  • Never give in!  When you give in your child learns that their behavior (the tantrum) has been successful in getting them what they want.  This will increase the chance they will throw a tantrum next time because the behavior worked!

If one technique doesn’t work, try another.  You need to have the right key to unlock you child’s tantrum behavior.

Until next time, be well and happy.

Lawrence Ross, Ph.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist


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