Toddler tantrums – when should you step in?

Toddler temper tantrums can be difficult to deal with - but researchers have found rhythms in toddler sounds that they think show when's the best time to step in to comfort your child if they're having a moody moment


It’s an age-old dilemma: your toddler is in tantrum mode. They have gone wild: screaming, kicking and shouting. Knowing your luck, it’s happened in the middle of the supermarket, and everyone’s turned to watch.


What’s the best course of action? Do you wait it out, to make sure they don’t get the attention they’re seeking? Or is it better to comfort them straight away?

When to deal with a toddler tantrum

Firstly, it’s important to know that a toddler temper tantrum is typically them expressing a combination of anger and sadness.

Usually this is out of frustration, because toddlers simply can’t express themselves and their emotions verbally.

Therefore, toddler tantrums are all weirdly similar. Yep, every toddler’s tantrums seem to follow a pattern, as discovered by a study of 100 tantrums done in the US.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University of Connecticut have found that toddler tantrums follow a pattern and a rhythm, after recording the sounds of over 100 tantrums using a special onesie suit worn by toddlers with a wireless microphone sewn into it.

When researchers replayed the audio, they discovered specific patterns – and unsurprisingly yelling and screaming usually went together!

“Throwing things and pulling and pushing things tend to go together. Combinations of crying, whining, falling to the floor and seeking comfort — these also hang together,” said study co-author Michael Potegal.

“The impression that tantrums have 2 stages is incorrect. In fact, the anger and the sadness are more or less simultaneous,” he added.

The study, published in the journal Emotion, found that sad sounds tended to occur throughout tantrums, with sharp peaks of yelling and screaming in anger.

So, the trick in getting a tantrum to end as soon as possible was to get the child past the peaks of anger by doing nothing.

Once the child was past being angry, sadness was left, and sad children often reach out for comfort. That’s the perfect time to pick up your toddler for a cuddle.

Have your say

Have you sussed the best time to soothe your child during or after a tantrum? Please share your secrets, in the comments below…

Image: Getty Images

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