Rid your household of fits and tantrums

Source: www.sodahead.com

Do you have a child who seems stubborn or strong-willed? Do you have a toddler whose lack of verbal skills frustrates her? Do you have a two-year-old? We have all seen a child in the throes of a temper tantrum. Whether it involves kicking, screaming, head banging or hitting, a tantrum is easy to spot. For parents, these fits are frustrating and hugely embarrassing when we’re out in public.

Let me tell you now: you don’t have to live with tantrums. You can train your child to not throw them.

I wholeheartedly agree with the Ezzos when they say, “To say that throwing temper tantrums is a normal phase of development that children will eventually outgrow demonstrates a lack of understanding of childhood propensities,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 193).

Tantrums are an expression of the child’s emotions. It’s fine that our children express themselves, but there are right ways and wrong ways. You simply should not accept a tantrum as a normal expression of emotions.

Tantrums as a form of rebellion
Whether they recognize it or not, our children throw tantrums to reject our authority.

“When a parent responds [to a tantrum], the goal should not be to suppress a child’s emotions, but to help him gain self-control in moments of disappointment and learn the proper methods of expression,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 193).

If you don’t address these fits when your child is little, he will learn that it is an acceptable form of expression. As he grows, the kicking and screaming might go away, but the attitude behind the tantrum will not. There are plenty of adults in this world who throw tantrums.

How to stop the fits: every fit needs an audience
To stop tantrums in their tracks, isolate your child immediately.

“A tantrum needs an audience to be successful, and isolation removes the child from center stage,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 193).

As simple as it sounds, pick up the fit-throwing child and plop him in his crib or pack-n-play. Do it the very minute the tantrum starts and do it every single time. Don’t ever let a fit slide or you will undo the work you have been doing to rid yourselves of them.

Consider strategies to make this easy on yourself. We live in a two-story house, and when we were working on tantrums, I kept a pack-n-play set up downstairs in another part of the house (behind a kitchen wall). I knew that I wouldn’t want to carry a kicking and screaming child upstairs and to his crib. I knew I would be much more consistent if I could isolate him downstairs.

But be sure that every location you set up is completely isolated from the rest of the family. If the child can still see you, he will think he still has an audience and will continue to throw the fit. If you can still hear him, ignore every sound he makes.

And while it may be tempting to simply walk away from the fit-throwing child, be careful. The child will likely follow you when he realizes you’re not there. And you need to use isolation as a form of discipline to teach him that tantrums are not acceptable.

Empathize with the emotion
After your child has calmed down, let him know that you understand why he threw the fit, no matter what the cause. In the same conversation, explain that tantrums are not an acceptable form of communication. Tell him that next time, he must use his words to tell you how he feels.

The conversation might go something like this:

You: “Sammy, I understand you are upset because I wanted you to eat your broccoli. I know not everybody likes broccoli, but it will help you stay healthy. Next time, I expect you to eat your broccoli without throwing a fit. You may tell me that you don’t like broccoli, and I will consider your thoughts, but you may not throw a fit. Do you understand?”

Sammy: “Yes, mommy. I’m sorry for throwing a fit.”

You: “I forgive you. Now go back to the table and show me how you can obey mommy by eating your broccoli nicely.”

Sammy: “Yes, mommy!”

Be sure not to skip this step when dealing with a tantrum. Every form of discipline we use must serve a lesson. So if he didn’t learn how to express his emotions in an acceptable way, the discipline won’t help. It may stop the tantrum in the short-term, but it won’t keep them from happening again in the future.

Read more about tips on timeouts and isolating your child.


  1. Love this post! I’m wondering if you can give me some advice about going out in public with my 2 year old. Here lately, he does NOT want to ride in the shopping cart, he wants to walk….actually, he wants to RUN. When he sees me getting the cart out of the corral he starts screaming and throwing a fit. If I’m only running in the store for one or two things I don’t mind him walking and holding my hand. Sometimes he will hold my hand, but last night, he wouldn’t hold my hand, or his big brother’s hand…every time we would reach down for his hand he would literally fall out in the floor and start kicking and screaming. I picked him up to carry him and he screamed and kicked and did every thing he could do to get out of my arms. I got a cart and put him in it and he screamed to the top of his lungs and tried to climb out. Everyone was coming over to where we were to see what was going on…it was awful!!
    We finally left. I carried him from the back of Target to the parking lot screaming and kicking.
    I honestly do not know how to handle this. He just turned 2.

  2. Hi Lisa,

    Two is such a fun age, huh? ;) That little independent spirit is growing! I have some ideas for you:

    1) Work on FTO at home! I remember working on something similar with my boys and my contact mom said that I can’t expect him to behave in public if he can’t behave in private. So true! The temptation is just too great. Be on the lookout for behaviors at home that might carry over to shopping trips and just work on general FTO. Ideally, you would leave him at home until he displays a sufficient level of FTO.

    2) I realize we can’t always leave them at home. In the scenario you describe, I would thoroughly explain what you expect. Honestly, I think it might be too much to expect a 2-year-old to stay near you while your attention is directed elsewhere. It might simply be a freedom you have to take away, especially given his history. He needs to earn this freedom. Next time you go, stop before you get out of the car and tell him that he will not be allowed to be out of the cart. Remind him of this experience and how he threw a fit. He demonstrated to you that he cannot handle this freedom (go back and read more about the funnel).

    3) Once he starts showing that he can handle the responsibility of being out of the cart, tell him that the minute he leaves your side, he will immediately go in the cart. He gets ONE chance. I would get a cart every time you go, even if you’re just getting a few things. You don’t want to have to hunt for a cart when you need it NOW. Make sure you have eye contact when you explain this to him. Ask him if he understands and have him respond with “yes, mommy.” You want to lay things out clearly so he fully understands the ramifications of his actions. You may even have one more tool in your arsenal which is to buckle him in the cart or not. Put him in the cart and say that if he can sit nicely, you won’t buckle him. But the minute he attempts to climb out, you will have to buckle him. Make this sound like it’s the worst thing ever so he’s motivated to sit.

    4) You did the right thing by just leaving Target, but did you discipline him when you got home? I honestly think you won’t need to leave a store again like that if you do all the prep work before you go next time.

    5) Be sure to maintain a cavalier attitude. “Oops, you ran away. So sorry, but I have to put you in the cart now. Remember how we talked about this in the car? Maybe you’ll do better next time.”

    Does that help?

  3. Yes, it is so helpful thank you!! (I’m going to print it out so I can reference it quickly when I need to!)
    He has just started throwing fits recently, so I’m reading through your posts and through my -Wise books to figure out how to handle it…..I’m going to start doing time out the Ezzo way in the crib, but of course, today, since I’m ready to start correcting the issue, he hasn’t thrown a fit yet. LOL

    The other night, when we got to the car I really didn’t know how to discipline him, (since we were in the car, in public) and he was so hysterical I could barely hear myself talking. He calmed down once I started driving, so at our next stop (my husbands work) I told him “We’re going in to see Daddy, you’re going to ride in the stroller this time and I don’t want to hear any crying.” I took him out of the car and put him straight in the stroller, didn’t let him down at all…and he was happy, no fits. He fell asleep on the way home and slept for the rest of the night, so other than me telling him I didn’t want to hear any crying…that’s all the discipline he got. What would you recommend doing when it happens again as far as discipline for that action?

    We have an older son, who we didn’t do Babywise with at all (had never even heard of it), and the way we parented him was classic attachment parenting…so we did a lot of things wrong with him, that I’m trying to do differently with the younger one! Thank God a friend of mine gave me a copy of Babywise when I was pregnant! It’s amazing how different the experiences have been from one another….but I do feel like I’m a brand new parent, b/c I’m doing things so differently than I did with my first son. Having been on both sides of the parenting fence, I can testify to how wonderful the Wise methods are.

  4. Lisa, One of the things the Ezzos talk about is doing non conflict training regularly at home (daily). Like Maureen said, you can work on FTO at home, and you can also work on other things. For example, you can work on sharing, sit time/blanket time (where you teach him to sit on a blanket and play with a toy quietly and not get off the blanket), how to wash your hands, how to act in a store, how to sit in church, how to not touch things that are not yours, how to use the interrupt rule, etc.

    Having a schedule really helps with training-room time, mommy and me time, rest time,quiet time, outside time, etc. Also you may want to look at his freedoms and choices. Maureen has written some great posts about that. He should not be directing his own day, rather, you should be deciding things like where he plays, what he plays with , what he eats, when he eats, what he wears, what he touches, etc. Hope that helps!

  5. Thank you Lynn, yes that is very helpful!

  6. I really love your blog. Thanks for sharing your insights. I have a 21 month old. He is not very verbal. He gets frustrated very easily and looses control. He will want something or got hurt or .what have you and as I’m trying to figure it out he has a fit. I am trying to be consistent. I was wondering if you had any ideas I could tell him to DO to help with his frustration. He can’t use his words, Any suggestions? Thanks.

  7. Hi Marci. You hit the nail on the head with the idea that he needs to channel his frustration. The Ezzos suggest that we teach them to fold their hands. When I use this, I even tell them to hold their hands and squeeze them as tightly as possible. I might play and say there’s a frog in there and they can’t let him get out. Also teach him how to take a deep breath, especially if it’s something benign (attitude-wise) like getting hurt. It sounds like you can sense the tantrum coming. So try to get him to fold his hands and take a deep breath before he loses self-control. If he still loses control, you must deal with it. Part of your training is just breaking him of the habit of throwing fits.

  8. I will try the frog in the hand idea. Thank you for your helpful and speedy reply.

  9. I have been struggling with my son’s tantrums…

    I do almost exactly what you say above on an extremely regular and consistent basis (put him on his bed, let him know when he is calm he can call for me and I will come in and talk with him about what went wrong).

    It seems that he doesn’t need an audience to continue a tantrum for 5-10min. I am wondering if that is a normal amount of time for a child to settle their emotions and be ready to reconcile?

    I appreciate any advise you can offer.


  10. Sorry, I forgot to mention that he is 3.

  11. Hi Evelyn,

    I think it would help to try to get to the root of his tantrums. What usually sets them off? Is he frustrated? Angry at you for some limit you set? Where is the tantrum directed? If it’s frustration over a toy, I think 5-10 minutes to deal with the emotion is fine. If it’s at all possible that he’s throwing a tantrum over a limit you impose, then I think there is more work you can do to deal with it. Be sure to assert your authority. Schedule his day. Let him know in any way possible that he’s not the one to call the shots. Also think about his freedoms. Does he have too many? Too few? It’s important to find that sweet spot with freedoms to make sure he doesn’t have too many (acts too independent) or too few (acts frustrated over too tight a restriction). I have several posts on freedoms and scheduling your day, so you can read more about these topics.

    It might help to keep a log of when these tantrums happen. For the next two weeks, just write down when it happened and what he was doing when it happened. You may even notice that they happen right before lunch or naptime. If he’s tired or hungry, those are easy to address. Just writing them down will help you recognize a pattern and get to the root of the issue. Hope that helps.


  12. This is very helpful…thank you…scheduling our time is also something I need to change.
    On top of the toddler tantrums my two year old is also “back talking” each time he is told not to do something. He says things like “no YOU stop mommy”. I am not sure if that deserves the same “isolation” principle or something different?


  1. […] pretty obvious that you would work with a two-year-old to limit tantrums, especially in public and in response to a friend. But it may not be as obvious to work with older […]

Speak Your Mind