Relentless Tantrums: Dealing with a Strong-Willed Child

deal with tantrums

From birth, babies learn what to do to get their needs met. They continue this natural tendency as they grow into adorable toddlers.  Some children are relaxed and laid back and only cry when hungry or wet. Others are more temperamental and will scream and cry when they want to be held or if they are too hot. The right approach can make all the difference in the world.

Children throwing tantrums in public spaces can, often times, test parent's patience.

Children throwing tantrums in public spaces can, often times, test parent’s patience.

Especially around two and three years of age, children begin learning how to do things themselves. They want to assert their newfound independence.  This is a period many call the “terrible twos.”  Many toddlers resort to throwing a tantrum—which can include lying on the ground, refusing to move, kicking and screaming, or refusing to do what is being asked of them—during this stage of their development.  If in public, and sometimes at home, most parents will give in just to get their child to stop throwing the tantrum. However, giving in shows the child that they can always get their way by acting out.

What do I do to combat the screaming?

Here are some great tips to keep your sanity while dealing with a toddler who is throwing a tantrum :

  • If possible, ignore it. Try to step into another room or if that isn’t an option, act distracted or occupied. 
  • Anticipate situations that cause tantrums or defiance and be prepared with a favorite toy, book, or snack.
  • Validate your child’s feelings and let them know that you understand where they are coming from.
  • Set limits using short and clear, but not threatening, language. For example, “We have to brush our teeth if we want to eat yummy snacks.”
  • Offer options if the situation allows. For example, “Do you want to take a bath before or after we read your favorite book?”
  • Use humor and engage your child’s imagination.

Note: During COVID-19, children’s frustration may be heightened and in result, tantrums could increase. Adults’ mental health is being put to the test, but the abundance of limitations that are in place are also affecting your children’s mental health during the pandemic.

I’ve done all I can do, what next?

If none of the above works and your precious angel is still not listening, here are some additional tips:

Set Limits

Calmly and firmly set the limit and explain why you are doing it.  For example, “I know you don’t want to go to bed, but it’s your bedtime. Since you will not walk, Mommy/Daddy has to carry you. You are a big boy/girl and in order to grow, you have to get your sleep.”

Be Consistent

Being consistent is also very important when dealing with a child who is very strong-willed. If a parent gives in occasionally but is strict on other occasions, expectations won’t be clear. All parents and caregivers should be on the same page about how to address tantrums.

Creative Outlets

All children are unique. During this phase of childhood, they are developing their own personalities. It’s good to test the waters of different types of hobbies, art, games—anything to engage their ever-growing minds. Remind them that their anger can be expressed through other outlets. For example, “I see that you are frustrated, how about we step outside for some fresh air to jump on the trampoline or draw with chalk.” 


Maintaining your patience at this point in your child’s life can be extremely challenging. That’s why it is important to set aside time for yourself—even if that means 5 minutes of meditation, confiding in a friend or loved one, reading a book, or another favorite activity while your child is sleeping. Being your best self will allow you to navigate this rough stage with more patience.

Red Flags

Although rare, it is still important to be cautious of red flags that your child is in real distress or has a serious condition. Try to take note of any frequent rage attacks, outbursts that involve violent behavior, and/or any abnormal behavior that is notably different from their usual tantrums. This will help you determine whether it is time to seek help from a medical professional or a mental health specialist.

How long do the tantrums last? 

At this point, many parents are asking themselves if the tantrums will ever end. It is important to remind yourself that your toddler is adjusting to their environment and is still learning to express themselves. They are determined to assert their independence  and will do all they can to prove that they are just as “strong-willed” as their parents. In turn, this can lead to frustration for the young one. Ultimately, they will express that in any way they can.

According to research, twenty percent of 2-year-olds and 18 percent of 3-years-old have tantrums at least once per day. However, only 10 percent of 4-year-olds have tantrums at least once a day. As your child develops more verbal skills, the tantrums will likely decrease and become a thing of the past.

It will be okay!

Please remind yourself that children often experience tantrums during the “terrible-twos (and threes)” and that you are not alone in this. Seek advice from fellow parents. If you’re the first of your friend group to have children, parenting advice blogs and columns are a great resource. Who knows, you may look back when they are in their teen years and miss the good ol’ tantrum days.

Interested in more parenting topics by Hospitality Health ER? Read our blog about preparing healthy after-school snacks, or simply like our Facebook page for automatic notifications on our blogs.