How to Deal with Toddler Tantrums

February 06, 2024

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"How should I deal with my toddler's temper?" This episode dives into effective strategies like setting clear expectations, consistency in discipline, and developmentally suitable consequences.


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical Worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled that you join me for another episode today. Today's question says, "How should I deal with my toddler's temper? He will scratch the skin off the back of your hands if you try to pick him up to do what needs to be done, as well as kick, et cetera. What should I do?" And my heart really goes out to the parent who wrote in this question because parenting toddlers is incredibly difficult. Now, those of you who have followed the Foundation Worldview Podcast for a while now, you know that I do not have my own biological children, that my background with children is in the educational setting, so that is a little bit different than the home. But I do know from having many close friends who have parented toddlers to just working with toddlers myself that it's a really difficult age. It's physically demanding, it's emotionally demanding, it's mentally demanding, and it can be difficult to know how to navigate a toddler having a temper, which is unfortunately typical for many, if not most toddlers. So that's the question we're going to dive down deep into today.

What do we do? What should we do when toddlers have a temper, when they have a temper tantrum? Before we dive down deep into answering this question, if you found the content of this podcast beneficial, please be sure to like and subscribe so that you don't miss any future episodes. And also please share this content with those within your sphere of influence. Also, if you have a question that you would like for me to answer on a future Foundation Worldview podcast, you can submit that by going to

Now as we think about this question, I think there are two parts that are necessary to answering it, and the first part is just some general biblical principles that should be guiding our parenting always. And then the second part is specific steps to take when dealing with toddler temper tantrums. So first, just general biblical principles to guide parenting and then specific steps to take when dealing with toddler temper tantrums.

So first general biblical principles. These are things we've talked about multiple times before on the Foundation Worldview Podcast, so they should hopefully be familiar to most of you who are faithful listeners First, that our children bear the image of God when our children are given to us, they're given to us as a gift from God and they bear his image. And so every time we are interacting with our child, we have to remember that they're an image bearer and that we are treating them as such.

The second biblical principle we need to keep at the forefront is that our children are fallen, and this means that our children are going to sin. There is this incorrect idea just floating around our culture, but also has infiltrated some parts of the Christian community that if we do everything correctly, our children are going to somehow come out perfectly. And I am a part of a number of parenting groups on Facebook and most of them are Christian parenting groups, just so that I can get an idea of what are some of the issues that Christian parents are facing and how are others advising them to handle those issues? And I can tell you that my heart just breaks in so many of these parenting groups that I listen or I read about people presenting these situations. "My toddler did this and then screamed or did this, and then what should I do?"

And the responses that people give, they just break my heart. I'm like, oh, this poor parent is thinking that something that's completely unbiblical is going to work. And you're probably wondering like, Elizabeth, why don't you comment? Well, because in these parenting groups there's rules like you can't say certain things and the things that I would recommend are all the things that you're not allowed to say. But so often what people will say, well, when you told your child no, how did you say no? Because if you presented in a really positive way, they're going to respond to you positively. Did you say, you know what, buddy? That's a great idea, but we can't do that right now. Now, could you say that potentially, yeah, you could say that to your child, but is your child then automatically going to respond to you calmly just because you responded to him calmly?

No, because like you and me, your child is sinful and therefore because of our sin, we want what we want. We have ourselves as the center of the universe, even though that is completely incorrect, and that's what toddlers are working through this fact that they have these strong desires that are not met. And the fact of the matter is because we are fallen, we have incorrectly ordered desires and we desire things that are not right, they're not true, they're not good, they're not beautiful. They're not the things that we ought to desire because we are fallen and part of our role in parenting is to help our children cultivate rightly ordered desires by pointing them to Jesus because only Jesus can change their heart.

So remembering that our children are fallen, we have to remember they're going to sin. It doesn't matter how kind, patient, gentle, sweet we are with them, they are going to sin. We also have to know that that means parenting is going to be difficult.

Have you ever gone to the grocery store and you picked out a cart and you're in the produce aisle when you realize, oh my goodness, this cart has a bum wheel and the whole time you're shopping the cart is squeaking and you're having to put all of your weight into turning the cart where you want to go. That's like us as humans, that we're born in sin and because we have this sin nature that even when we're redeemed, even when we're reconciled to God, we're always having to fight against this way that in our flesh we want to go. So we have to understand parenting is going to be difficult because we are sinful and our children are sinful.

In recognizing this, we also have to know that therefore discipline and correction is probably going to be a daily thing because our children don't know the correct way to walk, and we are trying make disciples of our children, so correction is going to be a daily thing.

Even as a teacher, this was something I had to remind myself that I had my lesson plans. I had the curriculum calendar that we had to follow in third grade, and I would have my plans and every single day in almost every single lesson, a student would mess up those plans because of their sin. Would it still frustrate me? Yes, because I'm a sinner as well, but I would have to remind myself every morning and throughout the day as I was teaching Elizabeth, this is going to be difficult because you are a fallen image bearer and your students are fallen image bearers. This is going to be hard.

And then we need to recognize that we're going to sin against our children, and when we do, we need to confess and repent of that sin and be restored in our relationship with that child, and then when they sin against us, we have to walk them through that confession, repentance, and reconciliation process.

Another biblical principle that we have to remember is that the goal of parenting is to make disciples. The goal of parenting is not to create happy, healthy children. Now, should we want our children to be happy and healthy? Absolutely. Those are good things to desire for our children, but that's not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is for them to be disciples of Jesus.

Another thing that we have to remember in this is that we so easily buy into the narrative of the secular world that our culture thinks that the goal of parenting is personal fulfillment because just of the prevalence of hormonal birth control and this incorrect faulty understanding that somehow we can play God in our reproductive system, that we think that children should be had when we plan to have them, how we plan to have them, when we plan to have them, and that it should bring us just ultimate joy and fulfillment at the right time in our lives.

Now, should parenting be a joy? Yes, it should be because we are fulfilling the calling that God has given us, but our joy and our personal fulfillment is not the goal. The goal is to make disciples, and making disciples means that we need to be consistent in our parenting and in our discipline because God never lets sin slide. We tend to have this faulty view sometimes that because of Jesus, God's just like, "oh, it's okay. Your sins not that big of a deal." No, no, no. To pay for our sin to be merciful to us, Jesus bore the full weight of God's wrath on our behalf. Sin never slides with God. Sin always has to be paid for, and so we have to recognize that making disciples means being consistent in our discipline and how we're pointing our children to the gospel and our discipline should point to the gospel.

This is going to take time. It's going to take intentionality. If you're thinking, how can my discipline point to the gospel? A great example that I think that it's really easy to learn from and you can work through with your kids is a book that we recently recommended in the Foundation Worldview Book Club and it's Arlo and the Great Big Coverup by Betsy Childs Howard, and in this book, it's a book about a boy that sins and he tries to cover up his sin, and then it shows how the mom walks him through this. She does discipline him. There's confession and repentance, and she points him to the gospel. So that's a great book for you to get just to read through with your kids and to reference then as you are disciplining them.

So those are just biblical principles. We need to keep in mind in our parenting that our children are God's image bearers, they're fallen, and that the goal of parenting is to make disciples.

Now we're going to look at, okay, what specific steps should we take when dealing with temper tantrums? Because we need to have these general biblical principles in mind, but then we need some specific things to do. Now, one thing that I think that can be done to kind of head off a lot of temper tantrums. Now me saying this, I'm not saying your child's never going to have a temper tantrum because as we saw in the biblical principle, your child just like you and me is a sinner, so they're going to sin. However, I think that a lot of temper tantrums can be circumnavigated when we set expectations ahead of time and practice.

For example, when we go to the grocery store, what is the expectation? Is the expectation that our child is going to sit in the cart, that they're not going to touch things, they're not going to grab things, they're not going to open up snacks and start eating them. Maybe we bring with us a snack that they can eat. So then we need to set that expectation, okay, we're going to the grocery store. We're going to go to the grocery store. It's going to be so much fun to go to the grocery store together. Then say, "okay, we have 1, 2, 3 things for you to remember, okay? The first thing to remember is that you're going to stay with mama in the grocery cart, okay? You're going to stay with mama in the grocery cart. Repeat that back to me. What's the first thing you're going to do? Stay with mama in the grocery cart. Good job. The second thing we're going to do is we are not going to grab things or yell, okay, what are we not going to do? We're not going to grab things or yell. And number three, we're going to eat the snack that mama brings. Okay? What's the third thing? Eat the snack that mama brings" and then go over those things. Okay? So we're going to stay in the cart. We're not going to grab things or yell, and we're going to eat the snack that mama brought. And then practice that. Okay? Say, let's pretend we're going to the grocery store. Let's pretend we're going the grocery store right now and get on your couch and pretend to buckle your child in. Then pretend to drive to the grocery store and then say, okay, we're getting out. Okay, what three things do we need to remember? And then you can put your child in a chair, a dining room chair, and then pretend to wheel 'em around the house, and what are we going to do? What are we not going to do? And do this for everything, for when you're going to church, when you're going to the library, when you're going to a friend's for a play date, when they have their quiet time in their room, that we tend to underestimate how important it is to train our child to do things correctly.

We can't just give them verbal instructions because God has not designed our children primarily as auditory learners. We actually have to explain things clearly. We have to have them repeat them, and we have to physically get their bodies involved in practicing.

So is this going to get rid of all temper tantrums? No, absolutely not. Our children are sinful. They're still going to sin. However, we can circumnavigate a lot of temper tantrums if we set expectations ahead of time and then we practice with them.

Second thing we really need to do is we need to make sure that we are consistent in our discipline. Now, this is really, really hard. This is why I think one of the many reasons why I think Satan just has us on this big hamster wheel of nowhere where we have so many activities and we're so overly programmed and scheduled, we don't have time to be consistent in the way we're discipling our children.

So be consistent in your discipline. Have a plan in place ahead of time. Okay, so when your child throws a temper tantrum at the grocery store, what are you going to do when he throws a temper tantrum at church or at the library or at the play date or in your house? What are you going to do at the grocery store? Maybe what you're going to do is if he throws a temper tantrum, you're going to leave your cart right there and you're going to say, oh, I'm sorry. You can't be in the grocery store with me because this is not how we behave in the grocery store. You're sitting against mama, you're sitting against God. You're sitting against everybody who's having to listen to you scream, and you pull him out. You say You apologize on your way out. I'm so sorry there's frozen stuff in there, please put it back. And you take him home.

And you might be thinking, but Elizabeth, I plan to do grocery shopping on Monday. Again, like I said, we can't be on this hamster wheel of nowhere. We have to have time in our schedules to do this, and then maybe when you go to the grocery store, the next time you try it again, if he does it a second time, maybe he's not allowed to come with you to the grocery store. Maybe you have to ask somebody else in your family to watch him and they're not going to do fun things with him when they're home with him that that's a time when he is being disciplined. But think ahead of time, okay? Have that plan in place. What are you going to do when he has a temper tantrum in the grocery store, at church, at the library, the plate date, any place? Okay, don't let his tantrums control your day, okay? Have this plan in place for what you're going to do.

Then he does need to be disciplined. So many of these parenting groups I'm part of at Facebook, they just tend to think, as long as you speak calmly and rationally with the child, they're going to be like, "oh, yes, mother, that makes complete sense, and I'm going to model you being patient." Should we model patients for our children? Absolutely. God is patient with us. Yes, we should be patient with our children, but we shouldn't think that just because we're being patient that our children are automatically going to be like, "oh, clearly. Now I understand. I should be patient with you too." They're going to need to be disciplined when they sin and the discipline, it should be developmentally appropriate and the punishment so to speak should fit the crime.

Again, I've said this in previous podcasts. We're not disciplining our children out of anger. There should be no violence. There should be no abuse, whether it's physical, emotional, nothing like that, okay? This needs to be disciplined that honors God and honors our child as an image bearer of God. So we need to think, okay, what's developmentally appropriate and what fits the crime?

Now, I know that so many people nowadays are against spanking or any form of physical discipline. I can understand that especially when people have been in situations of abuse where their parents have abused them through physical discipline. And so if that is you, I am so very sorry that you experienced that. That's not the heart of God for you to be physically abused, and I'm so very sorry for that. But sometimes physical not, and because physical discipline is different than abuse because we never want to have anything that's going to actually harm our child.

But physical punishments when kids are toddlers is really important because just think of your toddler's body. Your toddler doesn't have a lot of fine motor control, and they're constantly doing things with their bodies, and so they need sometimes a physical reminder. This doesn't mean that they need to get spanked all the time. Can spanking be a part of it? Yes, but a physical discipline can be a timeout where their body is physically moved to a different location.

Now, it sounds like for this parent that their child is just kind of out of control when they're having a temper tantrum. So it might be that your child needs to be in a more confined space, whether that's a pack and play where the floor or the mattress has been lowered to the ground or just somewhere where he's not going to physically be able to harm someone else.

So again, physical punishments, they need to be developmentally appropriate. They need to be done in the understanding that our children bear the image of God. We need to do them carefully, but little ones do need some physical reminder that what they did is wrong.

Another punishment that would fit the crime. This parent mentioned that her son scratches her and tries to scratch the skin off the back of her hands. Well, if he didn't have nails like long nails, I'm not saying any nails at all. I'm saying if he didn't have long nails, he wouldn't be able to do that. So maybe part of the punishment is that twice a week your child has to get his nails clips so that he doesn't have the capability of scratching the skin off of the back of your hand. So we need to think of what are developmentally appropriate consequences that fit the crime.

Also, this question was written in by a female, and so if you're really struggling in this, and it doesn't seem like anything that you're doing is helping your son, it would be wise to get your husband involved in this. Our culture just feeds us this lie that moms and dads are interchangeable and they're replaceable, where that just is not true. Even if we think of physically what it takes to physically make a child, and then how a child is grown and developed within the womb that moms and dads are not interchangeable, nor are they replaceable, and so frequently children have a greater fear, and I don't mean fear of, but I mean fear for as in respect for the dad. Now, this might not be your case, but if it is, then it's really important that you have your husband involved in the discipline process.

I know in my own family, my mom, she was great at disciplining us consistently, but a lot of times we wouldn't take her seriously when we were being disciplined, and then she would bring my dad in and we suddenly took things very seriously. So that's something for you to consider as well.

Also, just as a little bit of perspective, because you're in just the throes of this and how difficult this is, it's sometimes hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you are consistent with your discipline, things will get better over time. So as you're consistent in implementing these things, things will get better over time. Now, if not, if you're implementing these things consistently for six, 12 months and nothing is getting better, that's the time when it's time to take your child to the pediatrician with a whole bunch of notes that you've taken and say, "Hey, this is what's happening. I've tried to implement all of these things. None of them have worked. Is there anything else we should search for?" Because I had a friend who, she was a teacher, and so she had seen literally hundreds of kids, and so when her son was four years old, she realized that something wasn't correct with the way that he was responding to her discipline because she had seen hundreds of other kids and she had worked with hundreds of other kids in a school, and so she wrote all of these things, these notes down, she took them to the pediatrician, and the pediatrician said, "I think I know what this is," and they found out that her son had an autoimmune disease where his immune system was actually attacking his brain, and so he was responding in these ways because literally his brain was being attacked by his body.

Now, this is not the vast majority of children, but there are cases like that where this can happen, or there are cases where our children might have another illness or they might have a disability, and then we have to think of other things. The advice that I gave today is just for in general, when your child does not have any physical or cognitive disability, these are things that tend to be wise.

Now, this is a short podcast, and I am not the foun of all wisdom, so there are some other really great resources that I would highly recommend that you check out. The first of them is getting to the Heart of Parenting series by Paul David Tripp. He really looks at what does it look like to parent through the lens of the gospel, and then he gives specific advice for parenting children of different ages. So highly recommend you check out that series. Also, recommend that you check out this series, parenting With Love and Logic, while the people who wrote this series are Christians. This series is not overtly Christian. However, it gives you just some good ideas for how can you love your child while also logically looking at how should I parent them? How should I help guide them as they're dealing with these sinful tendencies?

Then another ministry that I would recommend is called Visionary Family Ministries, put out by Dr. Rob and Amy Reno. They have seven children of their own, and they just have lots of great resources, podcasts, books, blogs, other things that you can check out to think through, how do I parent biblically at these different stages of development?

Well, that's a wrap for this episode, but as always, my prayer for you as we leave this time together is that no matter the situation in which you and the children God has placed in your care, find yourselves that you would trust that God is working all things together for your good by using all things to conform you more into the image of His Son. I'll see you next time.

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