Ask Dr. Mary

Toddler Tantrums

My daughter is just 19 months old, but for the last month or so, when she gets mad or upset, she has a total meltdown. She has such wild, uncontrollable temper tantrums I don't know how to prevent or deal with them.

Children misbehave most often when they're hungry or tired. So during this time of developmental growth when your daughter is beginning to develop a will of her own, do your best to be especially alert to her physical needs.
If her physical needs are being met, her tantrums might just be her way of expressing the frustration that comes along with being a toddler. The body of a 19-month-old isn't able to keep up with the busy brain of a 19-month-old. The result is often the kind of meltdown your daughter is experiencing.
Your best chance at reducing the frequency of her tantrums is to try redirecting her. When you see your daughter building up to another meltdown, try to distract her by taking her away from the situation that's causing the problem. If she wants a cookie she can't have, take her out of the kitchen and help her find a toy she likes.
If you can't catch a tantrum before it starts, say a firm "no" so your daughter clearly understands her behavior is unacceptable and then remove her from the situation. These actions can help her shift the focus from both the anger and the wild behavior and let her regain some control of herself.
During these next months, make a deliberate effort to help your child learn three things:
What kind of behavior is and isn't acceptable. Through your words and your example, she'll discover that tantrums don't get her want she wants. And she'll learn how to balance her emerging personal determination with your expectations. Make sure you not only discourage unacceptable behavior, but that you praise her when she handles her anger in a positive way.
How to handle angry feelings. Your daughter needs to learn it's not acceptable to hit or kick another child, for instance, but it is okay to bop the clown punching bag.
How to verbalize her feelings. Two-year-olds are just learning how to use language, and you can encourage your daughter to use words to express her feelings. This will become easier as she moves toward the age of 3, but you can start to model this behavior now.

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