Parenting Hacks: Some Helpful Facts About Two to Four Year-Old Tantrums

No question, this is the age where children rebel, and it is a real challenge for parents.

The will starts to assert itself and no matter what temperament your child has, and chances are good they are testing you. Suddenly, things that used to be easy are very difficult (does everything have to be a teachable moment?) and the tantrums can wear you down.

See if this sounds familiar: you plan a fun family outing but the night before, your toddler wakes up a few times. Despite your best efforts to keep your day trip lighthearted, by mid afternoon, your little one is a blubbering, shrieking Tasmanian devil leaving a path of destruction in his or her wake. You admit defeat and pack it in, fully aware of the judgy looks you are getting from strangers as you pack your fun-size tornado into the car seat.

This all-too-common scenario loads your head up with worry, guilt, and frustration: Is this normal? Am I a terrible parent? Is there anything I can do to turn the volume down?


Tantrums are a response to frustration brought on by feeling out of control or an inability to communicate.

Well, the first thing to know is that, yes, this is normal. In fact, tantrums have an actual purpose. From the ages of 18 months to about four years, kids will have tantrums. According to Michael Potegal, Ph.D., a pediatric neuropsychologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, outbursts like these are standard expressions to frustration and anger. Researchers have determined the phases of tantrums: yelling, physically acting out, crying, and whining. To see the anatomy of a tantrum, check out this piece on NPR:

This certainly takes the pressure off to be the perfect parent. Kids miss naps, they have good days and bad days, and they have growing pains. You can be the most stellar parent in the world and they are still going to lose it on you sometimes. So cut yourself a break.

There are tricks for surviving this friction that don’t require the two-martini play date. Here are some things to consider that may lessen the blow of the meltdown:

  • Plan ahead, but stay flexible. Don’t let life grind to a haul simply because a fit is a possibility. Make your plans, but factor it in. Sometimes telling kids what is going to happen can prepare them: “We are done with playground time in five minutes.”
  • Snacks and sleep. Most parents have this down but it’s important to remember that kids this age need 11-13 hours of sleep daily to stay chipper. Regular healthy snacks every two to three hours help kids keep their blood sugar normal, but also helps them become acquainted with the cycles of full and hungry1.
  • Stay Cool. Keep your voice level and reiterate their choices and then give them some space. The average tantrum lasts about 10 minutes2, and then they usually run out of steam. But arguing or trying to talk them out of it often just prolongs the heightened state and ends up making you more upset. You are better off stepping away than losing your own temper. It also shows your child that you are not going to engage when they are out of control.
  • Behavior sticker chart. If you see something becoming a chronic problem, like a daily struggle with teeth brushing or car seats, set up a reward system. Make a little chart with days of the week and explain to them that every time they cooperate on the problematic issue, they get a smiley face. This gives them a sense of progress and rewards their efforts.

You’ve heard it before and it’s tough in the moment, but kindness is your mantra in these situations and that goes for you and your mate too. Remind each other that this is the advent of identity and it’s an important part of development that will pass. Granted, there will always be power struggles with small children and unless you are willing to give in to their desire for cupcakes for dinner and the same outfit three days in a row, you will have to contend with their defiance. Talking to them when they are not in an agitated state about good behavior will eventually sink in. And take heart in the fact that all parents go through some version of this and their children go on to be normal happy kids.




About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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