Ah, the dreaded temper tantrum. Remember that time when you thought you had just enough time for you and Junior to zip to the store for some groceries before Junior’s nap? What was going to be a quick trip for some essentials devolved into a wrestling match with a tired, tantruming toddler.

One of the ways in which two- and three-year-olds can express not only their utter frustration at not being able to “have their own way” but also to attempt to reverse your parental taking-charge decision is to give a shattering, fright­ening performance for the parental audience. She may throw herself on the floor. She kicks! She flails! She screams! …All the while watching your reaction from the periphery of her vision.

Or maybe your son’s temper tantrum preference is to cry so intently that he holds his breath until he blacks out only momentarily. He may strike at a parent, sibling, or babysitter, resorting to kicking and biting as the ultimate attention-getter.

taming temper tantrums: how can a parent take charge in the midst of all of this mayhem and cacophony?

First, remember that a temper tantrum is truly a performance, and few actors will perform to an “empty house.” Ignoring the behavior–actually walking away from it if it does not contain the risk of physical harm—usually has the amazing effect of causing the behavior to cease or the child to search for you to try the behavior all over again. Keeping away until the behavior is over will extinguish that day’s temper tantrum, and when done consistently, you can usually eliminate the temper tantrum from the negative side of your child’s behavior chart.

Second, you must be careful NEVER give in to a temper tantrum no matter where it occurs. You will be positively reinforcing a nega­tive behavior. At home, you can walk away. If your child is doing something that is potentially harmful, you may pick him up and put him in his bed or another safe area and then walk away.

But what if, heaven forbid, the behavior occurs in a store or a friend’s home and you are too embarrassed to have it continue because of the disrup­tion? Then carry your tantruming child outside to the pavement or car, place him down, and tell him to finish there as you then look away. At no time has your voice been raised nor a harsh word exchanged. You are positioning him so you and the others within earshot can ignore this unacceptable behavior. Do you return to the previous activity? If it is necessary food shop­ping with no one else immediately available to watch him, the answer is “yes.” And unfortunately, the rest of your trip may need to be interrupted with repeat visits to the pavement and car if needed. Is this incredibly annoying and time consuming? Absolutely! But take heart: what you are doing can have significant impact on your future dealings with your child. No matter how stubborn your child, if he or she knows that tantrums produce a negative result, rather than the reward or attention they are seeking, this bad behavior will eventually subside. Remember, you are teaching that negative behavior begets negative responses. This is a very, very important lesson for your child to learn.

Now to the parent of the breath-holding/fainting child, please be reassured that there is little chance for any brain damage or seizures in the future. They are without oxygen for seconds only. Stay calm and treat breath-holding as a temper tantrum, and it, too, will pass when unrewarded by “getting what he wants.”

Remember, the ultimate goal is to train up children who become mature adults. Helping your young one learn constructive ways to deal with disappointment, frustration and just plain exhaustion or hunger provides him or her with tools needed throughout his or her entire lifetime.


Read the (cool) scoop on Dr. Kappelman’s book.