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11 Ways to Stop a Tantrum with Toddlers and Preschoolers

11 Ways to Stop a Tantrum with Toddlers and Preschoolers


Need to stop a temper tantrum right now? Or just tired of the full-blown tantrums your toddler or preschool unleashes daily? Hunger, exhaustion, boredom and frustration are just a few of the reasons that meltdowns occur. Temper tantrums are a big deal but there are ways to minimize them in a positive way.

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This article originally published August 23rd, 2019 and has been updated and republished with a new date.

Stop a Temper Tantrum

A full-blown tantrum can be scary, not only for embarrassed parents dealing with it in public, but also for the child. Your toddler or preschooler might feel out of control in their emotions and simply not know how to stop a tantrum. Sometimes young children need help getting out of their fit.

Don’t confuse this with “giving in” as a parent. Yes, giving your kids a way out of their bad mood is helpful in the moment. But teaching them how to stop a tantrum gives them power over their overwhelming emotions in the future.

These positive parenting methods to stop a tantrum can result in happier kids! These are my simple strategies to stop a temper tantrum with toddlers and preschoolers.

Toddler girl holding toy baby bottles

Bag of Tricks to Stop a Tantrum

I call this article the “Tantrum Bag of Tricks”. It’s good to have a full variety of techniques throughout early childhood. What works to stop a tantrum one day, might not work the next. And what always worked with one kid, may not work for another. It’s important to have several tricks up your sleeve to try out!

Toddlers and preschoolers can smell fear. If you’re starting to panic about the temper tantrum and starting to feel out of control yourself, expect the tantrum to last longer.

It’s normal to get stressed out when an embarrassing meltdown happens in a public place! But if you’re able to stay calm and collected (even if it’s just on the outside!), the tantrum is going to diffuse more quickly. Take a deep breath, keep calm and act like you’re in control. Your kid is more likely to give up the fight.

Watch for the Signs

Ideally you’ll want to start diffusing the child’s tantrums before they become full blown. Everyone wants to stop a tantrum before it’s a complete meltdown with your kid on the floor! Hey, that happens to the best of us.

Generally, a toddler or preschooler’s body language will change in the moments before a fit occurs. Kids may stiffen, with facial expressions changing dramatically. Some children are more prone to meltdown at the end of the day or when they’re tired or hungry. The best thing is to watch and take note of the signs of a tantrum to raise awareness before the next one occurs.

Using one or more of these temper tantrum diffusing tips can help stop a tantrum before it starts. Then read through to the end of the article for reasons why kids have tantrums with helpful suggestions to avoid them.

Squeeze the “Grouch” Out

This has been a favorite trick to stop a tantrum with every one of my kids. Squeezing the “Grouch” out is a loving and silly way to diffuse tantrums almost instantly. In fact, when my kids are in a cranky mood, they’ll even ASK me to squeeze the grouch out! Here’s how it works: 

Mid-tantrum just ask your child, “Do you want me to squeeze the grouch out?” Most of the time kids will stop fussing and say yes. Then just wrap your arms around them and wiggle, jostle and squeeze tightly for about 10 seconds!

Ask your child if the grouch came out (they’ll usually say “No” because they want to be squeezed again!). Repeat as needed until the “Grouch” is gone. This tantrum trick has worked with all of my kids!

Toddler girl holding a baby doll

Distract and Redirect

The distract and redirect method is particularly effective with babies and toddlers. Little ones can be distracted from their tantrum with little things like a toy, book or a snack.

You could also use an outside distraction. Here are a few easy ideas:

Pretend you’re on a phone call with a favorite family member by having a positive conversation about your child, of course.

Step outside to ring the doorbell. This trick almost immediately makes my toddler stop to go and check who is at the door!

Distracting a preschooler or older child from their fit can take a bit more creativity. With my 3-year old daughter, I’ll use distraction by saying I heard or saw something. While she’s screaming, I’ll say quickly and loudly enough for her to hear, “OH! I heard something!”

This usually makes her stop the tantrum and either listen or ask me what I heard. From there I can use a redirect method and say I thought I heard the mailbox shut so we can go check the mail. Or that I thought I heard my phone ring, maybe it’s grandma calling?

Toddler playing memory match game
The promise of a board game can be a great temper tantrum distraction!

Brain Shift

I asked the question on my Facebook page, “How do you diffuse a tantrum?” My friend Breanne offered up this idea about when she helped a child calm down who was stuck in a swing at the park:

{I ask} 10 logical questions in a row. What’s your name? How old are you? Do you see my son over there? Do you know how old he is? Is he a boy or a girl? What color shirt is he wearing? What’s 2 + 2? Causing her brain to detach from the emotions and go to the logic side, caused her to settle down quickly…

Crystal chimed in with this response:

The fight, flight or freeze response is strong and calming kids/de-escalating emotions is key!

Use distraction to divert and redirect

Give Them a Job

Little kids love to know that they are needed. Sometimes feeling small and helpless in a busy family can lead to frustration. When my daughter is having a fit, I’ll often let her know that I need her help with something. She usually stops fussing right away to lend a hand.

If you’re doing household chores and your toddler or preschooler is having a tantrum, enlist their help. Even young kids can move laundry from the dryer to a basket or use a dusting cloth on furniture.

Preschoolers love to know they are helping out

Today my daughter was upset in the grocery store because I passed the treats without putting any inside the cart! I pulled out a plastic vegetable bag and asked her to hold it so I could fill it with green onions. She stopped the fit right away to hold the bag and didn’t ask again about the candy.

Check out this additional article for tips on age-appropriate chores to do with toddlers and preschoolers.

Mirror Their Feelings

Using the reflection technique is one of the best positive parenting tips to stop a tantrum. This isn’t mimicking but rather letting your kids know that YOU know how they feel by putting their emotions into words.

For toddlers and preschoolers that don’t have a broad language vocabulary, mirroring can be an effective way to stop a tantrum. Getting down to their level and looking at your child in the eye, try these techniques. This is how you can use mirroring:

When you’re feeling a tantrum escalate and your child is visibly upset, put into words how your child might be feeling. The goal is to use words that will get your child to stop crying, screaming and/or thrashing. Try this then see if the kids listen and converse back with you.

How to Use a Reflection Technique

Asking the words like a question is ideal as it requires your child to reply (even if it’s just a nod of their head in agreement). Words could include, “You’re upset because you wanted a treat and mommy said no?”. Or “You’re angry inside and it makes you want to scream and hit?”

Next, use words that show you understand that your child is upset. Words could include, “I know you’re mad about not buying a treat today and it makes you want to cry”. Or “I can tell you are upset because you’re hitting and kicking”. If you’re child is receptive, you can try touching them on the hand or give them a back rub or a hug.

Want to find out how to help sick kids get better fast? These practical tips will help with cold, flu and diarrhea to get kids healthy again!

When your child is listening and the tantrum is waning, you’ll be able to close out the conversation and move on. Try using words like, “I understand that it’s hard to go to the store and not buy a treat. Sometimes we get one but not always”. Or “It’s okay to be upset but we can’t use our anger on other people with hitting or kicking. Next time you get upset you’ll need to tell me with words when something is bothering you”. 

Follow this quickly with another one of these temper diffusing techniques to redirect and distract from the tantrum picking up speed again.

Make Them Laugh

One way to diffuse and stop a tantrum is with pure silliness. One that usually works with my kids (and of course, I only do this at home) is to pretend I’ve fainted. I’ll cover my ears, make a funny face and then drop in slow motion to the ground.

To stop a tantrum with laughter, try dancing around. A booty shake usually gets toddlers giggling. Put your child’s shoes on the ends of your feet and ask them if your shoes shrunk. Put a blob of toothpaste on the end of your nose, then ask your kid if there is something on your face. 

What you don’t want to do with sensitive kids is to mimic them. Mimicking their tantrum can make some kids angry and they’ll feel like you’re minimizing their feelings. You don’t want to mimic their meltdown in an attempt to diffuse the situation. It might even make the current situation worse.

Don’t minimize feelings with mocking or mimicking

Change of Scenery

If you find yourself in a vicious tantrum cycle throughout the day, try a change of scenery. Inside the house? Ask your child if they want to go somewhere. 99% of the time when I ask my preschooler if she wants to go elsewhere, she stops a tantrum and grabs her shoes. The gentle distraction does us both well! A change of scenery could include taking a walk, visiting the library, the park or stepping onto the patio.

READ MORE about the benefits of stroller walks in this article about walking outside with your baby.

Read these 6 tips for walking with your baby including what to bring with you, where to go and choosing the perfect stroller. #Exercise #NewMom #Ergobaby #LoveCarriesOn

On the flip-side, you might find yourself trying to fit too much into your routine and faced with tantrums in return. Trying to get one more errand done for the day and your fussy kid is telling you otherwise? The last thing you need to do is squeeze in one more stop. Might be time to cut your losses and head for home. 

Tell Your Toddler a Secret

When my kids start screaming, I get quiet. That is, I lower my voice so they can’t hear what I’m saying until they get quiet too. Use a whisper or even fake talking by moving your lips until your child stops shouting.

Another trick is to tell them you want to share a secret. Get in close and whisper softly into their ear something special. Don’t make any promises you can’t keep but you could say, “Mommy’s going to make pudding in the kitchen, would you like to help?”. Or “I found a bottle of bubbles, would you like to go outside and blow them?”.

Blowing bubbles is a restful activity that often calms anxious kids.

Just Add Music

Turning up the volume on the radio to catch my daughter’s attention in the car usually stops a tantrum in its tracks (she’ll stop to hear the music or to sing along).

At home, I’ll enlist the help of Alexa on my Echo Dot to create a musical distraction. I’ll call out, “Alexa, play Baby Shark” and I have one happy kiddo! Get up with your child and dance the blues away.

Need more ideas for young kids? Try some of these things to do at home with a preschooler!

Preventing Tantrums in the First Place

Naturally there are reasons your child is having a tantrum. Getting to the core of the tantrum is key to helping prevent them in the future. The causes of temper tantrums can vary between kids depending upon a child’s personality or trigger.

These are a few reasons why toddler tantrums, preschoolers (and even older children!) happen.

Toddler crying in a car seat

A BIG Reason Tantrums Happen

More than likely, if your toddler or preschooler is having consistent meltdowns they are overly tired. According to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers require between 11-14 hours a day and preschoolers should aim for 10-13 hours of sleep.

This sleep number includes nap time and night sleep. So where do your kids fall? I know my kids are a LOT less cooperative when they aren’t getting good rest.

Little girl wearing Peejamas potty training pajamas

What About Naps?

I do sometimes struggle to get my daughter to take a proper nap in the afternoon. Then dinner comes and she falls asleep in her high chair! That’s never good news. She always wakes a few hours later after the evening nap and is raring to go until 10 pm! And of course she wants to sleep in the next day, which can’t happen when older siblings have to go to school. It’s a cycle that can be hard to get out of, resulting in mood swings and tantrums.

The late nap is never a good thing!

If your child is fazing out of a daytime nap, you may need to finagle bedtime and wake time earlier to compensate. Of course you can lead a toddler to bed but you can’t make him SLEEP! Having a few bedtime tricks can help, like using a “sleepy time spray” (lavender oil and water in a squirt bottle). I’ve just discovered Moshi Twilight sleepy stories, which I play on the Echo Dot.


A grumbling tummy is definitely one of the big reasons that young kids have a tantrum. Small stomachs need snacks every few hours to keep mood levels even. But it’s not just about feeding your child. Don’t forget to offer plenty of water throughout the day. Dehydration can definitely lead to mood-swings as well!

On Facebook, Jessica had this to say about her 2-year old daughter:

A lot of the time it’s from being either hungry or overwhelmed. A quiet spot and a snack help us 85% of the time! 

Snacks should be well-balanced to keep sugar-levels even. Offer snacks that include a healthy fat, fiber and protein. Good snack combos include a cube of cheese and a few apple slices. Or try some pretzel sticks with peanut butter for dipping. 


Little kids get frustrated over seemingly small things. But to them, it’s the end of the world. Frustration is another big reason that kids have tantrums.

All the things that children learn daily can add to frustration when they haven’t mastered it yet. Parents might even add to that frustration by getting mad at kids when they’re still learning.

Let’s use potty training with toddlers as an example. Toilet training doesn’t usually happen overnight and we’ve all gotten upset with pee on the floor, right? Growing up takes time and a lot of patience.

You might have heard about the potty training in three day method and wonder if it would work with your toddler? These are the must-read toilet training tips for kids including how to prep your child, prepare your family & FREE printables, including a printable sticker chart. These are the potty tips you'll need for success!

Think about how you feel when your internet crashes just as you’re completing an online project. Or when you’re building that Ikea shelf and the instructions don’t make sense? Frustration can make anyone cranky!

Put yourself into your child’s shoes and know that even tiny annoyances can lead to big tantrums. Offer help to your child when possible or at least guidance before frustration leads to a tantrum.

Lack of Control

Limited language skills can make a child feel upset. They can’t communicate what they want and you don’t understand, which can lead to a strong emotions.

On the opposite side of the coin, your child may also be feeling frustrated at a lack of freedom. If you’re helping too much and they want to do it alone, see where you can allow some independence. Know where you can say “Yes” to them throughout the day, instead of always saying, “No”. 

Needs Attention

When I’m busy with at-home work stuff and not giving my daughter close attention, I notice that tantrums and whining is at a maximum. A need for attention can cause kids to get moody.

Instead of giving your child a “Time Out” for a tantrum, try a “Time In”. My child’s therapist suggested something called “Special Time”, which is just 10 minutes of daily unstructured playtime with your kid.

If you notice your child’s demands are increasing, drop what you’re doing (when possible) and have an impromptu dance party. Play a board game. Swoop her up for a tickle fest. Choose one of these best books for kids and have a cuddle story time.

Good use of “Time in” can stop a tantrum before it starts. Read this article if you need more ideas of things to do with toddlers at home.

Don’t forget to make eye contact and make your child aware that you’re present in the moment. We all get distracted but the best way to nip a tantrum in the bud is to give your kids full attention. Put down your cell phone and get down at eye level with your child.

When faced with an upset child it can be a challenge to focus on the good things. So don’t ignore good behavior. If the only time parents address their kids is with negative attention, children will quickly learn how to act up and get their parents attention.

Location Tantrum Triggers

Does your child have a tantrum each time they’re buckled into their car seat? Is your kid kicking and screaming whenever they have a diaper change? One of the best tips is to know what locations set your kids off.

Consider using a distraction method whenever kids are put into a situation that usually results in tantrums. Special toys and books can be your best bet.

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Our toddler was not pleased to be in the car seat!

Try keeping a favorite toy in that trigger location that the child can only have when they’re there. Consider having special items when kids are buckled into the car seat, stroller or having their diaper changed.

Use a toy strap to attach the toy to the car seat, stroller or diaper changing table. This is both a physical and mental reminder that the toy is attached to that spot and kids can only use the toy when they’re in that location.

Silicone Toy straps


When my children have had too much of their share on electronics or television, tantrums are more frequent. Over-stimulation is a temper tantrum trigger. Cutting back on screen time might be tough at first but you’ll see the proof within days. My kids sleep better, bicker less and are generally in a happier mood when electronics are limited.

Over-stimulation also happens frequently at parties, play dates and theme parks. Think about being in a location that’s swelling with loud music, exciting experiences and bright colors. It’s fun! But for toddlers and preschoolers, it might be too much for them to handle. 

Try these tricks that I use in the post about controlling a Disneyland meltdown when your child is overstimulated away from home.

Want to avoid the Disneyland meltdown on your vacation? Temper tantrums at Disney can be avoided by following these tested tips with advice for a happier kids. Includes a list of quiet places to rest inside the Parks and tips for kids with special needs.

Let’s Talk About It…But Not Right Now

While a tantrum is happening is not the time to ask your kid, “Why are you having a fit?”. Your child’s brain is not equipped to calmly discuss their reasoning while in the middle of a tantrum or meltdown.

If your child had a meltdown, you should always come back around to it and talk about it later. When your child calms and is happy, bring it up into discussion. Feeling extreme emotions is a normal part of child development. It’s okay to talk about mood swings and temper tantrums in a relaxed way.

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Ask why they were angry, upset or sad. Talk openly about ideas and ways they can self-calm. Discuss things they can do next time to relax before they get to the tantrum. Discussing tantrum behavior with your child helps them understand why they might have been having a hard time.

Keep in mind children’s short attention spans. Stick to a brief chat, allowing your kid to express themselves. If you have a non-talker, try having your kid draw a picture about how they were feeling.

Aggressive Behavior

Do your toddler temper tantrums go beyond just being upset? What about older toddlers and older kids? How about special needs or autistic children? When meltdowns are extreme, dangerous or there is aggressive behavior it’s time for reinforcements. Your family physician is the first step, especially if you feel like using physical punishment.

If all else fails, consider reaching out to your child’s healthcare provider for professional help. A clinical psychologist can be a lifesaver that can offer positive ways to turn things around. Our child’s therapist has helped us with a better way of dealing with our kid’s own behavior. Using positive words, special time and positive parenting techniques, we’re easing the tantrums. We’ve been able to replace the meltdowns with acceptable ways of dealing with big emotions.

What to Do When You’re Feeling Hopeless

When pushed to the brink day after day with a tantrum, parents may feel hopeless at times. Making good choices is exactly that – a choice. We want our kids to be making choices in the right direction. So we in turn as parents need to be making the best choices as well.

Be a good example to your children. For example, if you insist that kids not yell in the house, then adults should be following the same rules. Don’t want kids hitting? Aim to avoid physical punishment.

You’re not a bad parent if you’ve tried these different ways to stop a tantrum. We’ve all been in that seemingly hopeless situation. The ideas in this article are a better path to positive behavior.

If you feel worn out and want to resort back to old techniques, try removing yourself from the situation. Take a break, call in reinforcements, or even just hide out in the bathroom until you calm down.

Make your home a safe place for your child to express their big emotions. With consistency in these simple steps and knowing the common triggers, calm behavior and fewer tantrums can become the norm.

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