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Temper Tantrums

By Armin Brott

Dear Mr. Dad: My two-year-old son has started having temper tantrums. The ones that happen at home are no fun, but the ones that happen in public places—like the supermarket—are downright embarrassing. Is there anything I can do about this problem?

A: Temper tantrums are most common among two and three-year-olds, which is probably why the phrase “terrible twos” was invented. Experts have found that kids this age have tantrums because their strong wills and their desire for things outstrips their ability to express their emotions in words. Tantrum are an emotional release, which, as you well know, are characterized by screaming, crying, and kicking. The most impressive ones often involve some kind of thrashing around on the floor.

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Generally speaking, the best way to deal with any tantrum—public or private—is to ignore it and let it take its course. Giving in to your son’s temper only reinforces the behavior: effectively saying to him that if he misbehaves, he’ll get what he wants. I know it’s hard, but fight the urge to give in.

Of course, ignoring a tantrum isn’t always possible. If it happens in a public place, for example, try to remove your son from the scene. If you can, take him outside to the car and let him scream it out there. The point here is to show your son that you won’t tolerate that kid of behavior.

Another effective way to deal with tantrums is to head them off at the pass. Say you’re in a store and your son starts asking for candy. He’s tired and you know that a negative response might push him over the brink. Offer him a compromise. Tell him he can’t have the candy now, but as soon as you get home you’ll make a big bowl of pudding together, or play his favorite game.

And speaking of being tired, fatigue and irritability are often the precursors to tantrums. So if it’s nap time, skip that stop at the grocery store and head straight for home. Finally, make sure your son knows what’s expected of him at all times and praise his good behavior every chance you get. Knowing he’s pleasing you will probably make him want to do whatever it takes to keep you happy.

© Armin Brott
A nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott is the author of "The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year", "The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be", "Fathering Your Toddler", and "The Single Father: A Dad's Guide to Parenting Without a Partner (New Father Series)". He has written on parenting and fatherhood for the New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Newsweek and dozens of other periodicals. He also hosts "Positive Parenting", a nationally distributed, weekly talk show, and lives with his family in Oakland, California. Visit Armin at


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