How to respond to tantrums

Dear Tunester,

This is a post I wish I had read when my babies were toddlers. Tantrums can be relentless, and I might be a therapist and all but my fuse can be short as anyone’s when it comes to a screaming toddler who won’t put on a coat in the dead of winter when we need to leave the house NOW.

I hope that when the tantrum tornado hits, keeping these three types in mind will help you figure out your game plan. Often the most torturous part of our baby’s tantrum is our own conflict about how to react.

Here are the three types of tantrums your toddler might be having, and how to handle each kind:

3 Types of Toddler Tantrums:


  1. Can’t Express Needs

This happens when your toddler has a basic need – to eat, sleep, drink, change diaper, but doesn’t know how to express it. Not only that, they’re at the point where the need has overwhelmed them – they’re overtired, starving, or uncomfortable.


How to handle it: 

  1. Empathize with what’s going on. “I see that you’re tired and hungry. Your stomach must be growling!”
  2. Try to give them what they need.

In an ideal world we’d preempt these situations and not get to the point where our babies are tired and hungry. But after 13 years of parenting I can say I miss the mark at least once a day. Don’t beat yourself up. There are also plenty of times when you’re on it, you’ve packed the perfect snacks and your baby napped exactly when planned. But we don’t hear about it when that happens.

The takeaway here is that when your baby is tantruming because of basic needs, try to satisfy their needs asap.


2. Power Play

Power play tantrums happen when your toddler pushes against a limit you’ve set. It might be a safety limit, like touching an outlet, holding scissors, or getting into the carseat, or it might be a boundary you need to keep for other reasons, like not going outside before dinner, or not having another cookie. Either way, its a rule you’ve instated and think is important.


How to handle it: 

  1. Empathize with their anger – “I know you don’t want to be in the car seat right now and that you’d rather play.”
  2. And then HOLD YOUR GROUND – “…but it’s my job to keep you safe and that means sitting in a carseat.” Sticking to your limit is not only important for your baby’s safety but it also gives your baby the feeling of security they need. They want to know that your limits are dependable and that they don’t have too much power over you.


That said, every now and then we’re in a situation when we realize we might have made a mistake with a particular limit. That’s ok! Let yourself be flexible and pivot if need be, just not most of the time 🙂

The takeaway here is that once you’ve set a limit, try to stick with it. You’ll thank me years from now.


3. Impossible Demands 

This one is unique to toddler land – It’s when you give your toddler their sippy cup but they wanted the other cup, and you give them the other cup but they wanted the bottle! With the Impossible Demands tantrum you can’t win. There is no rational way out of these tantrums. Your baby simply needs to emote. They are overwhelmed and most likely can’t be pleased by an action you take.


How to handle it: 

  1. Make sure your baby is safe.
  2. Show them that you are there for them if they need you.
  3. Allow them the space they need to express their range of emotions unless it is harming them or someone else in which case you intervene and set a limit.
  4. Be sure to take care of your own needs. These tantrums can be very stressful for parents. Know that the storm will pass.

The takeaway here is to truly let your baby have their tantrum and express their emotions. Being a baby is hard. Being human is hard. Hell, I want to have a tantrum all the time. Give them space to do so.


Dear Tunester, I personally found that keeping these three types in mind helped me figure out what to do when my own babies were in the eye of the storm. I hope it helps you too.

One of my favorite podcasts for dealing with this stage is Unruffled by Janet Lansbury. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend emulating her approach and calming style when it comes to dealing with toddlers. 

For more info on how to deal with tantrums, especially type #1, check out this post.

Ok dear Tunie that’s it for today. Let me know if this was helpful! COMMENT below and tell me which type of tantrum your toddler had today.


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