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How to Manage a Preschooler's Tantrums

Medically reviewed by Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Sahlee Barrer · Updated Feb 21, 2021

How to Manage a Preschooler's Tantrums

When it comes to how to handle a kid’s tantrums, it all depends on their stage of development. During the preschooler stage, a child is able to better to communicate their feelings. But they may still have bouts whining, screaming, crying, kicking, and hitting just like when they were toddlers.

How to Handle a Kid’s Tantrums During the Preschool Stage

Meltdowns among children may be extremely stressful, but tantrums are part of children’s natural growth and development. Tantrums are generally a child’s way of processing and expressing large, overwhelming emotions.

Since they are at a stage when they are just learning how to handle their emotions, tantrums are easily the best way of venting their frustration.

Children can get distressed due to fatigue, hunger, or discomfort.

As children grow older and mature, they will know how to handle their emotions better. In the meantime, parents need to know how to handle a kid’s tantrums.

Preschooler Tantrums as a means of communication

Children often resort to tantrums because they have yet to develop the language skills needed to express themselves.

Children get distraught when they find out that they cannot always do what they want, or have everything they want to be handed to them immediately. So when they get upset, screaming may seem the most ideal way to communicate with their parents.

The tantrums tend to decrease as children learn to use language and other forms of communication more effectively.

How to Help You Preschooler Develop Their Language Skills

How to Handle a Kid’s Tantrums: Prevention Tips

To learn how to handle a kid’s tantrums during the preschooler stage, perhaps the best way is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Here are some things parents can watch out for to curb tantrums before they start.

Address Physical Needs

Is the child hungry? Thirsty? Sleepy? Has to go to the bathroom? These physical needs may be the easiest to address, and should be attended to immediately.

Strengthen their Communication Skills

Work on the child’s communication skills. Increase their vocabulary by teaching them new words each day.

Positive Reinforcement

Give plenty of positive reinforcement. Commend the child for good behavior, and be generous with the positive attention and praise.

Hide off-limits items

If some objects are considered off-limits to children, then keep them out of sight. This lessens the chances of a struggle between parent and child.

Provide distractions

When the child seems to be on the verge of a tantrum, provide a gentle distraction. Take advantage of their short attention span. If they want something they can’t have, provide an alternative. Offer another toy, play a new game, bring out a different book, or point out something interesting.

Shift their environment

Parents can also simply change the environment – move to a different part of the house, or go outdoors. Learning how to handle a kid’s tantrums is about giving children options.

Teach them new skills or hobbies

Help children learn new things and acquire different skills. Maybe they would like to sketch, draw, or paint? Materials are easily available and inexpensive. Just give them the space where it’s ok to make a little mess.

How many times has the child said, “I want to try,” every time you’re cooking something? Give the child a chance to mix some batter, or mash some food. Praise them for doing crafts or chores.

When they have mastered a certain skill or activity, move on to more challenging tasks. Knowing how to handle a kid’s tantrums is also about understanding that children also appreciate learning something new, or gaining some responsibility.

Weigh your options

Don’t say ‘no’ right away! What is the child asking for? Is it something manageable? Some parents may just say ‘no’ because they are tired, busy, or in a rush to finish something.

Consider the child’s request. Maybe it’s not so outrageous after all! Learning how to handle a kid’s tantrums also entails choosing one’s battles. There is no need to gear up for a fight all the time.

Be aware of children’s limits and schedule things around them. Be conscious of triggers to children’s temper tantrums. If they are tired, then go home, rather than bring them with you to the supermarket, or on another errand.  

Nurturing the Socio-Emotional Development of Preschoolers

How to Handle a Kid’s Tantrums Once it Starts

It’s one thing to see signs of an oncoming tantrum, but what are the tricks to handling a kid’s tantrum when they are already kicking and screaming?

Stay cool and calm

Matching a child’s screams will not do anyone any good. If you want to calm down a child, then you have to stay relaxed as well. Try not to give in to your own frustration and anger. 

Respond to the cause

Try to gauge the reason for the tantrum, and respond appropriately. Sometimes the child just needs a hug and some comfort.

Get some snacks if the child is hungry. Maybe it’s time for a quick nap? In some cases, it might be best to ignore the outburst and move on to something that might interest the child. Awareness of what sets a child off can help parents learn how to handle a kid’s tantrums.

When a child gets upset because you won’t give in to a particular demand, give a quick explanation, and move on. Do something else and keep the child distracted.

When you know your child well enough, sometimes it is best to disregard the outpouring of emotion. Insist that you can communicate after the child has calmed down.

Ensure their safety

When a child is in a full-blown tantrum, make sure the child is safe from harm, or won’t be able to harm others. Take the child somewhere quiet to relax and calm down. This is particularly important when outbursts occur in public spaces.

Be firm when needed

When safety becomes an issue, and the child continues to repeat the forbidden behavior, it is time to be extra firm. Impose a time-out, or hold the child firmly and explain why such behavior cannot continue. Stay consistent when safety is involved. 

Don’t give in

When parents simply give in to their children’s tantrums, then they begin to realize that such behavior works! To learn how to handle a kid’s tantrums, parents need to determine how to address emotional outbursts at a young age, and in their early stages. Yielding to a child’s demands just shows that tantrums are effective.

Constantly remind children that whining and screaming are not acceptable behavior. If they want or need something, then they need to engage in polite and earnest conversation. 

Accept when at fault and learn to apologize. Parents also make mistakes or can be insensitive to children.

Be your child’s role model

Be a role model! If you don’t want any crying and screaming in the household, then parents have to restrain their emotions as well. 

Learning how to handle a kid’s tantrums don’t end here! Parents need to reinforce children’s behavior when the outburst is over. Praise the child for recovering their control and calming down. Children may feel particularly helpless after a tantrum or a disagreement with a parent. Ease their anxiety with a tight hug, and be generous with the “I love you” to reassure them.     

Sleep is also important, and make sure that the child is well-rested. When children lack sleep, they can become hyper, agitated, and disagreeable. Make sure that children are getting the sleep and rest that they need to reduce tantrum triggers.

How to Handle a Kid’s Tantrums: When to see a doctor

Knowing how to handle a kid’s tantrum also means determining when it might be time to see a doctor.

  • Talk to a doctor when tantrums continue at age 4 and beyond. When all forms of mediation or intervention fail, the issue might also require medical attention.
  • Though uncommon, tantrums may be due to hearing or vision problems, an illness, language delays, or a learning disability. Watch out for these signs to help facilitate early intervention and stem future behavioral problems.
  • If the parent is getting increasingly angry or frustrated and feeling a loss of control, or the tantrums are becoming even more intense and frequent, or there is no longer any form of cooperation between the parent and child, then it might be time to get help from others.

Key Takeaways

Knowing how to handle a kid’s tantrums essentially requires getting to know the child better. Each child is special and they process emotions in their own unique way.

Keep the child well-fed and rested, and be aware of possible tantrum triggers. And ultimately, reassure your child that you love and care for them.

Over time, parents will determine which strategies work best for their child.

Learn more about parenting, here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Sahlee Barrer · Updated Feb 21, 2021

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