Parenting expert reveals how to stop a toddler tantrum in its tracks before it starts

toddler crying on the ground
Number one? Don't panic. Photo credit: Getty Images.

If you're a parent of a toddler you'll know a tantrum can strike at any moment, but of course they usually happen in unwelcome public places like the mall or church. 

The signs will be recognisable to many parents: Crying, kicking, stiffening limbs, going red in the face. Often once you've reached this point, a full-scale nuclear meltdown is en route, whether it's an appropriate time or not.

But a parenting expert says it's important to remember toddler tantrums are sometimes the only way children between the ages of one and three can express their feelings, or try to understand or change what's going on around them. 

Director of UK nursery chain Maggie and Rose Lucy Prew told The Sun that young children "simply don't have the words to express big emotions, their social and emotional skills are only just starting to develop, and they're beginning to learn that the way they behave can influence the way other people behave too". 

She's given some of her top tips for stopping a tantrum in its tracks before it starts. 

Don't panic 

Prew said one of the most important things to remember is how normal a toddler's tantrum is. 

"Above all, recognise this is a normal reaction as your child is learning to develop emotionally and socially," she said.

"Rather than letting the tantrum press your buttons, try your best to put yourself in your little one's shoes.

"It will help you to quickly assess what is happening and how best you can support them."  

Reduce your child's stress

"Keep an eye out that your little one is having regular food and drink, not getting over-tired or overstimulated," said Prew.

Look for triggers

"If you can identify situations and environments in which your child is more likely to feel overwhelmed, you can better plan to reduce the emotional impact," said Prew.

"For example, if your supermarket trip always ends in tears, consider changing the time of your visit so your little one has had a nap or snack beforehand.

"Talk to them ahead of the visit to set expectations as to what you're going to do: 'We are shopping for food only today, not toys. Would you like to be in charge of the list for me and check it off?'"

Don't rush in

"Don't rush in! Recognise that when your child is overwhelmed, their rational brain is limited," said Prew. 

"Connect with them to calm them down by acknowledging what they are feeling before you offer a solution or say why it's not possible. 

"For example, 'I'm here, you are safe.' Or 'I know you wanted that lollipop so badly.' Don't add on the 'but' or 'because' - they can't hear you until they have calmed down."

You can find the complete list of Prew's tips and things to watch out for in the full article