The first time a toddler has a major tantrum can come as such a surprise to parents that it is difficult to keep from laughing. Even the second or third tantrum can be amusing to watch. However, once it is apparent that this is more than just a little phase, it becomes more difficult for a parent to deal with. Tantrums can start as early as 12 or 15 months, but typically start around 18 to 21 months of age.One important thing to understand about tantrums is that they are normal behavior, and should therefore not be punished. Toddlers are supposed to have tantrums. Your goal at this age should not be to stop your child’s tantrums, but rather to guide your child through them and to minimize the situations that might elicit a tantrum.
This is where the principle of choosing your battles wisely comes in handy. For example, you and your toddler are shopping and she reaches from her seat in the shopping cart and grabs a box of crackers off the shelf. She is quite proud of this feat, and begins to shake and play with the box. Your first instinct may be to take the box away and put it back. After all, you don’t buy those particular crackers and you feel your child must learn to keep her hands to herself in the grocery store. Well, as you can imagine, if you take it away, your child is likely to throw a tantrum (your child may not be at the tantrum stage yet). Think for a moment; would you rather have a screaming toddler for the rest of your trip through the store, or would it really kill you to just let her hold the box of crackers, then discreetly set them aside at the checkout line. By letting her hold the box, you aren’t giving into her or letting her have her way, because she won’t even know it is an issue if you don’t intervene. You will be faced with this kind of choice many times each day. By pausing for moment and thinking “is this really something important enough for me to intervene and possibly elicit a tantrum, or is this a small issue not worth fighting over?”, you allow your toddler some independence to be herself, and avoid many nerve-wracking temper tantrums.
How should you respond when your 18-month old has a tantrum? The answer to this question will change as baby grows older. During the first few months of the tantrum stage, we suggest you console baby and try to help her through it with reassurance or by distracting her onto a different task. You may also choose simply to let her be, and allow her to roll around on the floor kicking and screaming until she is done. You can also alternate between these two choices, consoling her for a bit, then letting her down to deal with it on her own when she needs to. The older your child gets, your responses may change.