How to Avoid Temper Tantrums with Young Children

Whether it is holiday shopping or a quick run out to the grocery store to grab a container of milk and a loaf of bread, if a young child goes along for the ride, there is always a possibility of a temper tantrum. Here are three easy discipline tricks that really work.


Make a game out of what must be done

Sing a silly song, make funny faces, say the ABC’s in a high/low voice. This works for things like buckling up the seat belt of the car seat (don’t all children hate that), leaving the toy store or putting on a jacket or hat.

Be matter-of-fact

Don’t ask, “Do you want to put on your jacket?” or “Shall we put that toy down because we are ready to leave?” Just say, “We are ready to leave and we are putting on our jackets.” Or, “It’s time to leave the store and put the toy back…which shelf are you putting it back on, the top shelf or the bottom shelf?” Always make sure that when you give your child a choice, both choices will lead to the goal you have in mind.

Warn, distract, and then proceed with what needs to be done

Children like to know what the plan is…and they need to realize that what you say goes and that there is no discussion or negotiation. It helps, if possible, to give a warning. For example, when you need to leave the store, give your child a warning in a friendly upbeat tone of voice, “One more hug for mister bear and then we will put him back on his shelf and go and get a drink at the water fountain on our way to the car.” After the hug, help your child put the bear back, scoop him up, head towards the water fountain, singing a song about bears or water or whatever. Or, if you are at the library, you might say, “You can turn the next two pages and then we will take our books to the librarian to check them out.” Again, scoop up your child (if there is any question he disagrees about your plan to leave), and head towards the library checkout. Let your child know you understand how he is feeling, “I bet you wish you could stay in the library all day, but it’s time to check out. You can hold the library card and give it to the librarian.”

One of the hardest things about dealing with preschoolers is that they are easily distracted and often cannot stick with one thing for very long. This distraction is a blessing in disguise, however because no matter what they are involved in: looking at a book, playing with a toy, having a temper tantrum…they can almost always be distracted from it…just turn their attention to something else.


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Vivian Kirkfield

I'm a mom ­of three, ­educator, ­parenting ­speaker an­d author o­f Show Me ­How! Build­ Your Chil­d's Self-E­steem Thro­ugh Readin­g, Craftin­g and Cook­ing. I lo­ve sharing­ my passio­n for util­izing pict­ure books ­and positi­ve parenta­l particip­ation to b­uild self-­esteem, de­velop pre-­literacy s­kills and ­strengthen­ the paren­t-child co­nnection. ­ I enjoy h­iking and ­fly-fishin­g in the C­olorado Ro­ckies when­ I'm not r­eading, cr­afting and­ cooking w­ith kids. ­ My next w­riting pro­ject is a ­picture bo­ok/board b­ook for to­ddlers and­ I just re­turned fro­m taking t­he Show-Me­-How Story­-time with­ Miss Vivi­an program­ "on ­the road&q­uot; to Ch­icago.


  1. says

    I’ve tried the silly–it works sometimes, others I have to do THE MATTER OF FACT-more times then not the warnings have already come before the melt down so if 1 & 2 haven’t had any effect I just MOVE ON-when they were younger the scoop and go was a go to now they are a little bigger and don’t want to be picked up -but I still can if it gor to it.

  2. says

    I have found that being matter-of-fact makes a huge difference. Wish I’d have learned it earlier than child #2. 😉 This is a good write-up. Thank you for sharing.

  3. says

    The choice thing always worked well for me with a toddler (now that she’s a preschooler all bets are off!). Red coat or blue coat? Banana or apple? It lets them feel like they have a choice. Like the article stated though, just make sure to only offer options you can accept if they choose it!

  4. says

    I love the tip of making a game out of your errands or what you must get done with a small child by your side. Kids love games and being involved in what’s going on, plus it will help to keep them distracted and away from boredom. There’s nothing worse than a small child who is bored and feels that acting out is their only option for getting that feeling to pass.

  5. says

    I am not a parent but I’m sure this can be super frustrating! Thank you so much for sharing these awesome tips! I’m going to send this to my sister who has a two year old!

  6. says

    I just came accross your blog and I love it!! Your advice for avoiding temper tantrums is right on!! As a pediatrician I like to call your approach the “Dont ask, tell!” plan. And it works in so many areas of parenting!!
    Thanks for what you do!

  7. says

    That is exactly right on spot. That’s what I done with my kids when they were younger. When you make shopping fun, it gets done at a quicker pace. When you say something firmly “put on your jacket, we have to go to the store” they are more likely to do something than if you said “want to put on your jacket?” that’s leaving an opening for a “NO!” or a tantrum!!

    Awesome post! I love reading your site, you always have the most up to date parenting info! Thanks!

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