Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Tantrums

Over the past few weeks my 15-month-old daughter has had several tantrums while we are out shopping. I find it so embarrassing to have her kicking and screaming and feel that everyone is looking at me. I have tried to calm her down, but this makes things worse, and it is often not clear what has set her off in the first place. What is the best way to deal with this behaviour?

Tantrums are a normal part of early childhood and most bystanders will be sympathetic despite their stares. Trying to reason with your daughter at this age will just prolong the kicking and screaming, as she will not be able to comprehend what you are saying. Although you will learn what sets her off, and may be able to steer her away from such situations, there will always be a few tantrums that cannot be explained, other than your child has got to a state where she feels unable to cope any more.

Tantrums in babies and small children are often the result of hunger, tiredness or frustration at not making themselves understood. Once you are aware of the warning signs that a tantrum may be imminent, try using a distraction to help to head it off. It is a good idea to try to arrange trips to the supermarket or shops at times of the day when your toddler is not likely to be hungry or tired. Do be aware of how long she is able to cope before she begins to get frustrated and plan your outings accordingly. At your daughter’s age, long shopping trips will bore her and trouble may start. If at all possible, it would be better to leave her at home with a friend or relative and for you to enjoy such a trip alone and in peace. If, however, she does have to accompany you, be prepared by taking a drink and small snack with you, such as a box of raisins. This should help to keep your toddler occupied while you try to finish your shopping as quickly as possible.

Getting to know the best way to handle your toddler when she is kicking and screaming may require trying different approaches. Some toddlers will calm down more quickly if they are held on your lap, from behind. Place your arms around her body and constrain her flailing limbs. It may help if you whisper quietly and calmly into her ear, as she will have to stop screaming to listen to you. If your toddler responds to you in this way, you can use it to help her get over her frustrations more quickly. Once she is calm again, give her a cuddle and then continue with what you were doing.

If you have a toddler who does not like being held, then don’t try to use this method. She may calm down more quickly if you ignore her altogether, but stay nearby to make sure that she does not hurt herself in any way. When she realises that you are not paying her any attention, she may well stop screaming and you can then pick her up and give her a cuddle.

Once you have learned how to handle your daughter’s tantrums in public places, you will not feel so embarrassed by them. Remember that they are part of her continuing development towards independence – and are not a reflection of your parenting skills! Providing she knows that she has your unconditional love, even though she appears not to want it as she kicks and screams, she will gradually learn to handle her frustrations and the tantrums will fade away. If you consult the Features list on the website, you will come across several helpful articles, which go into further detail on this important subject.