Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Temper tantrums

9-minute read

Key facts

  • Temper tantrums are outbursts of screaming and other challenging behaviours that occur if your child loses control.
  • Tantrums are normal in toddlers and mostly occur up to when they're 3 years old.
  • Children may have a tantrum when they are overwhelmed by feelings, such as frustration or disappointment.
  • Pestering can lead to tantrums, for example, when your child keeps asking for something repeatedly even after you've said 'no'.
  • If your toddler has a tantrum, remain calm and stay with them in a quiet place while they calm down, but don't try to reason with them or give in to what they want.

What are temper tantrums?

Temper tantrums are outbursts of challenging behaviour that occur when your child loses control. They range from whining and crying to screaming, kicking, hitting and holding their breath. Toddlers may throw themselves down on the floor, clench their teeth and pound their fists.

Temper tantrums are natural in children who are too young to express their anger and frustration in words. They are a normal part of child development and mostly occur in toddlers between 18 months and 3 years of age.

Your child's personality also plays a part. Some children are naturally easy going and positive, whereas others who are very active, intense and persistent may have more intense tantrums.

Why do toddlers have tantrums?

Tantrums mean your child is overwhelmed by their feelings. It means they need your help. Tantrums may also be your child's way of getting your attention.

They are more likely to happen if your child is:

  • tired
  • hungry
  • feeling sick
  • anxious about a new situation
  • bored
  • living in a home with stress and conflict
  • spending too much time watching a screen

Frustration can lead to tantrums. Children can get frustrated, especially when they don't get what they want. Sometimes when they try something they can't do, it might be more than they can handle.

For toddlers, being told 'no' can lead to tantrums. When your child keeps asking for something repeatedly even after you've said 'no', it's called pestering. Your child might pester you for things you don't want them to have, such as junk food or toys. If you keep saying 'no', the disappointment might be too much for your toddler to bear.

How can I prevent my child having a tantrum?

Tantrums can't always be avoided, but there are strategies you can try, to make them less likely:

  • Think about whether something may be causing your child stress, and what you can do to relieve it.
  • Identify and anticipate what triggers your child's tantrums, for example by changing their usual daily routine.
  • Talk about emotions with your child, name how they're feeling (such as 'angry', 'sad' or 'disappointed') and tell them it's okay to feel that way. Teach them the words they can use to share their strong feelings.
  • Give your child some control over things they can do. This may fulfill their need for independence. An example is to let them choose between 3 options that you give them.
  • Know your child's limits. If your child is tired or feeling unwell, it's not the best time to go to the supermarket or visit friends.
  • Stick to a routine so your child knows what to expect.
  • Keep things you don't want your child to touch out of sight, to reduce the chance of struggles over them.

How can I prevent my child pestering me?

Children are more likely to pester if they know it will work. It's important not to give in, as that will teach your child that pestering works and make them more likely to pester in future.

If you are consistent, your child knows you mean what you say and will be less likely to ask again. If you are inconsistent, your child knows there is a chance they will get what they want, so they will keep pestering.

Before you go to the shops, tell your child what behaviour you expect. Praise their good behaviour. For example, if they can get through the trip without asking you for something, offer a healthy reward, like a play in the park.

Try not to say 'no' too often. If you only say 'no' to things that really matter, your child will be more likely to listen. Distract them or offer them an alternative.

How should I respond if my child is pestering me?

Pestering can wear you down, especially in a public place. Stay calm and manage your temper by breathing slowly and counting to 10.

Don't give in to your toddler's threats, demands or whining. Tell them clearly and calmly that you won't give them something if they don't they ask for it nicely.

Even if they ask nicely, you don't have to say 'yes'. Listen to your child's request, praise them for asking politely, and take a moment to consider it. If you don't want them to have something, explain why.

Don't say 'no' unless you mean it and will stick to it.

How should I respond if my child has a tantrum?

If your toddler has a tantrum, stay calm. Stay with your child to help them feel secure. Be kind and reassure them.

If you are in a public place, you can pick your toddler up, and take them to a quiet, safe place to calm down.

Don't add to the problem with your own anger or frustration. Take deep breaths and think clearly. If your feelings are getting out of control, move to another room but come back to your child when you feel more calm.

There is no point trying to reason with your child as they are not in control. Don't punish or laugh at them.

You can try to distract your toddler with another activity.

What should I do after the tantrum?

Do not reward your child after a tantrum by giving into their demands. This will only show your child that the tantrum was effective. Instead, praise your child for regaining control.

Your child may feel vulnerable after a tantrum, especially if they understand their behaviour was not appropriate. These feelings are an important part of how they learn to behave. Hug them and reassure them that you love them, no matter what.

You can talk to them about what they are feeling – for example, sad, jealous, scared or disappointed. Acknowledge those feelings and help them learn from what happened.

How can I encourage good behaviour in my toddler?

You can model good behaviour for your toddler. They will learn how to speak and act from watching you.

Some ideas to encourage positive behaviour in your toddler include these ideas:

  • Reward and praise good behaviour. Give your toddler attention when they are behaving well and praise them for it.
  • Use simple instructions, and check that they understand by asking them to repeat it back to you.
  • Show your child how to use words rather than screaming.
  • Keep things you do not want your child to touch out of sight, to reduce the chance of struggles over them.
  • Set your child up to not be frustrated when they are playing or trying to master a new task. Offer age-appropriate toys and games. Start with something simple before moving on to more challenging tasks. Praise their efforts, even if they don't manage to get it right the first time.

When should I seek professional help?

Most children outgrow tantrums by 5 years of age. If your child's tantrums persist or become more frequent, severe, or destructive, it may be a sign of an underlying issue, such as:

  • anxiety
  • trauma
  • stress in the family
  • hearing problems
  • learning problems
  • difficulty with concentration or attention

Seek help if your child:

  • injures themselves or others, or destroys property during tantrums
  • misses school because of their tantrums
  • holds their breath and faints or has a seizure during tantrums
  • has nightmares, headaches or stomach aches
  • starts wetting or soiling themselves, after being toilet trained
  • is constantly clinging to you
  • continues to have tantrums when they start school

It's also important to seek help if you worry you might hurt your child or you feel stretched beyond the limits of your patience.

Resources and support

If you're struggling to handle your toddler's behaviour, try these resources:

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2023

Back To Top

Need more information?

Tantrums - Better Health Channel

When a young child is having a tantrum, it is because the emotional (limbic system) part of the brain is dominating the child's behaviour.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

How To Deal With Toddler Tantrums | Tresillian

How to deal with toddler tantrums, toilet training, fussy eaters and how you can ultimately promote positive behaviours.

Read more on Tresillian website

Tantrums: why they happen & how to respond | Raising Children Network

Toddlers have tantrums because they’re overwhelmed by big emotions. Older children might not yet have learned safe ways to manage feelings. Get tantrum tips. Article available in: Arabic, Dari, Karen, Persian, Simplified Chinese, Vietnamese.

Read more on website

How to prevent tantrums, meltdowns | Get proven parenting strategies | Triple P

Child having temper tantrums? Understand what they are why they happen. Positive parenting strategies help manage the meltdowns for a calmer family life.

Read more on Triple P - Positive Parenting Program website

Positive strategies for even the most challenging parenting moments | Triple P

Tantrums, bedtimes, aggression, difficult behaviour – parents and carers need positive, proven strategies. Teach skills, improve family life with Triple P

Read more on Triple P - Positive Parenting Program website

Childhood behaviours

As children grow and develop, they may exhibit certain behaviours such as anxieties, childhood phobias, temper tantrums and exploring their sexuality.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

How to survive your child’s public meltdown | MensLine Australia

Sooner or later your child is going to throw some sort of tantrum in public & everybody is going to look. Here’s how you can survive!

Read more on MensLine Australia website

Understanding Toddler Behaviour | Tresillian

Learn more about toddler behaviour and toddler development, including how to deal with toddler tantrums, toilet training, fussy eaters and more.

Read more on Tresillian website

Toddler Tips & Videos

Learn more about toddler behaviour and how to deal with toddler tantrums, toilet training, fussy eaters and how you can promote positive behaviours.

Read more on Tresillian website

Healthy eating for kids

Encourage healthy eating habits for kids by shopping healthy and planning meals to minimise temper tantrums at the dinner table and keep fussy eaters happy.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.