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Should I Let My Toddler Cry Out a Tantrum?

As a parent, your protective instincts often tell you to immediately soothe your toddler when they erupt into a tantrum. But is this always the right approach? There’s disagreement around whether you should allow your toddler to “cry it out” during meltdowns or intervene to calm them. Here’s a balanced look at the pros and cons of letting a toddler tantrum play out.

Why Let Them Cry

There are a few reasons some experts recommend letting your upset toddler tantrum with minimal parental interference:

Teaches self-soothing – By allowing your toddler to work through their big emotions independently, they build coping skills to eventually calm themselves down. Rushing to soothe them with a hug or treat every time deprives them of learning to self-regulate.

Allows emotional release – Letting the tantrum run its course gives your toddler a safe outlet to vent their overwhelming feelings. Not suppressing the emotions allows them to fully process them.

Avoids reinforcing tantrums – If tantrums reliably elicit parental attention, toys or snacks to pacify them, it inadvertently rewards the behavior and encourages more tantrums. Letting them cry helps break this cycle.

Shows you won’t give in – Refusing to cave to unreasonable toddler demands during a tantrum demonstrates that their behavior won’t get them what they want. This discourages using outbursts as manipulation.

Teaches consequences – Letting your toddler have an all-out tantrum, while limiting dangers, allows them to experience the natural consequences – exhaustion, embarrassment, public disapproval – that discourage the behavior.

Of course, actually listening to your toddler bawl, thrash and sob manifests every parental instinct to protect and soothe. It’s heart-wrenching. But some believe short-term upset teaches long-term emotional intelligence.

Why Intervene to Calm Them

Other child development experts contend that you should actively work to calm your upset toddler rather than leaving them to “cry it out.” Reasons for this approach include:

Promotes emotional bonding – Responding with empathy when your toddler is overloaded and out of control deepens the parent-child bond. Leaving them to cry risks damaging attachment.

Teaches emotional skills – Being present as your toddler melts down models healthy ways to recognize, label and manage big feelings as the tantrum plays out in real time. This hands-on guidance builds useful life skills.

Reduces distress – Prolonged, intense crying spikes the stress hormone cortisol in young children. Calming the tantrum promptly brings their emotions back to baseline, avoiding unnecessary trauma.

Averts escalation – A toddler left alone may escalate dangerous behaviors like throwing objects, self-harm, or running away. Calming intervention prevents increase of concerning conduct.

Shows you accept all emotions – Rushing to stop crying suggests only “positive” feelings are acceptable. Helping your toddler through a tantrum – without judgment – says all emotions are valid.

Prevents future issues – Research links extreme emotional neglect in childhood with long-term mental health effects. Responding with empathy may help prevent future psychological distress.

As you can see, there are good arguments on both sides of whether or not to let a toddler tantrum run its course.

Finding Middle Ground

In reality, most experts agree a balanced approach is best. Set basic safety limits on destructive tantrum behavior, but initially let the non-harmful emotional release play out to teach your toddler self-regulation skills. Say calmly, “I’m here when you’re ready to talk, but I won’t let you throw things or hurt anyone.”

However, if the tantrum escalates into prolonged hysteria, it’s appropriate to intervene with comfort and validation. Gently restrain them into a soothing bear hug, speak reassuringly, empathize with their emotions, and focus on de-escalation.

Over time and with consistency, your toddler will learn to skip the full-on meltdowns and use the self-calming techniques you’ve taught them. By tuning into their needs along with modeling emotional intelligence, their tantrums will steadily lessen. Stay patient – this too shall pass!