A Pediatrician’s Guide to Handling Tantrums

Crying throws people off, but not me. To me and probably many other pediatricians, it’s white noise…

See, I can tell the difference when it comes a real cry, fake cry, cry for attention, tantrum, etc.


It’s not easy, and it takes a little practice.

But once you know your toddler’s cries, you can take better check of your own emotions.

If you are dealing with a tantrum…something I’m seeing frequently as my daughter goes through her terrible two’s, these are my top tips:

  1. Take a deep breath as the parent. In the infamous book The House of God, a satire on the medical internship year, during a cardiac arrest, the first rule is to check your own pulse…meaning Don’t Panic! So take a deep breath and if your child is old enough to understand how to do this, encourage him or her to do the same.
  2. Move to a quiet area or go outside. Both of these are helpful because they’re a change of scenery! Sometimes, children need a reset button and if the deep breath isn’t working, then change their external environment. If you’re in the home’s playroom, go upstairs to a quiet area and read books together. If weather permits, go out to your backyard. Yes, this is essentially distracting them but it’s better to distract them in a mindful way, rather than turning on the phone or tv in the middle of a tantrum. Children will a more mindful and peaceful transition of their emotions. Otherwise, if you turn off the tv or take your phone back, the tantrum will re-surface. Sound familiar?
  3. Time. I’m a big fan of time limits and time out and even the more recent concept of time-in, but it needs to be used EFFECTIVELY. Set a time limit and stick to it.

    TV only for 10 minutes.
    No snacks because dinner is in a half hour.
    We’re leaving in 5 minutes so shoes on and let’s go potty.

    Children need structure in play and in discipline. A good rule of thumb is one minute of time out per year of age. 2 year olds get two minutes of time out, 3 year olds get three minutes, etc.

  4. Ignore. I love this sage advice. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is set a timer, and let them wail. I promise many times it won’t be longer than 2 minutes, and they will be on to the next thing and will forget all about what was bothering them. Trust me.
  5. Be proactive. Make sure your child has eaten if they don’t seem hungry. Make sure they get a nap in, even if you think they’re hyper and full of energy. Children are fickle creatures and again, they need routine and structure. As the parent, that’s your job! Even during these uncertain times, do your best to create and stick to a schedule for yours and your child’s sake!

Lastly, I’m a very firm believer and advocate of positive parenting. If you hate being a Debbie downer and nagging your child, then take the opposite approach and be over-the-top positive when your child does something right-If he or she

Finishes the last bite.

Uses the potty to pee.

Plays quietly by themselves.

Clean up their toys.

Listen to you the first time you ask something.

There are SO many opportunities to praise our children, rather than feel we are berating or scolding them. Not to mention, positivity goes a much longer way in a child’s psyche, and it will make you feel better as a parent, I promise. So don’t take those little things for granted. Hype them up and praise your child. They want your praise. They will continue to do those things more and more, and you will see tantrums become less and less frequent with time.

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