Parenting Q & A

Ellen Barrett, a parent educator at Family Connections, fields questions about the daily ups and downs of parenting. The same issues impact many parents. If you have questions for Barret e-mail her at

Q. I have a sweet and curious 2 ½-year-old daughter, except when she melts down into a completely head-turning temper tantrum, which seems to be happening a lot lately. It's so unpredictable--it happens at home, in a store and sometimes at her grandparent’s home. When they occur, I feel completely helpless. I don’t what causes them or how to make them better. What can we do? 

A. There are few parenting challenges greater than tantrums. Their ability to reduce happy kids (and grown-ups) to a puddle on the floor is striking. Add to this feelings of shame, embarrassment, failure as parents, plus the advice we get from others, and any parent might feel that he or she has failed. Here are some tips to help you get through this tough time.

  • First, tantrums are normal. They provide release from stress and frustration. For two-year-olds, tantrums release feelings the way a good cry or a workout at the gym does for adults. Try not to stop the tantrum, but rather, try to guide it. If you are at home, sit quietly by her while she rages. If you are in public, find a space where she can carry on. Be prepared to leave a full grocery cart in the store or a full plate of food in a restaurant.
  • Although tantrums usually appear as an out-of-proportion response to an incident, it is essentially "the straw that broke the camel's back." For this reason, tantrums are unpredictable and seem unwarranted. Don’t try to analyze it while it’s happening, but talk about it afterward. Help your child come up with words to describe her feelings. Let her know that you understand.
  • Remember  that tantrums are most likely to occur right before or during periods of big developmental growth. For example, when cognitive development surges ahead of language development, many two-year-olds experience frustration. Their ideas and desires are strong and clear to them, but the ability to communicate effectively is lacking. Head off tantrums by giving simple and clear information about impending transitions or expectations. For example, tell her, "You can play for 10 more minutes, then we are going to the store."
  • Two-year-olds are egocentric. They know what they want, but they lack the ability to see other people’s point of view. Add to that a desire for independence, and most two-year-olds are on a collision course with you and the rest of the world. Give limited choices and avoid open-ended questions. At bedtime say, "It is time to get ready for bed now." Then offer a single choice: "Would you like to wear blue pajamas or red pajamas?"
  • Don’t take tantrums personally. Children do not have them to get back at or embarrass you. Remain calm and close by.
  • Knowing your child and yourself is key to dealing with tantrums. Follow your own good instincts for ways to handle tantrums that are in accord with your child’s temperament and your parenting style. 


Ellen Barrett

Read More on "Got kids?" Corner
Volume 4, Issue 8, Posted 12:39 PM, 08.02.2011