Toddler tantrums can be frustrating, embarrassing and exhausting for parents. When your toddler is having a meltdown in public or over something trivial, it’s natural to want to intervene quickly. However, what you say in the heat of the moment can make the situation better or worse. Some responses may inadvertently encourage the behavior, while others can shame or upset your toddler. Here are things not to say when your toddler is mid-tantrum.
“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”
Threatening to punish your child if they don’t stop crying may temporarily shock them into silence. However, this gets to the root of the problem. It teaches your toddler not to cry rather than how to appropriately express big emotions. This can lead to feelings of shame and an inability to regulate themselves. Allow your child to cry and acknowledge their feelings. Teach them constructive ways to handle anger and sadness.
“You’re embarrassing me!”
Telling your toddler they are embarrassing you can humiliate them, leading to more intense tantrums. It also distracts from the real issues. Your child needs comfort and guidance, not shame. Remind yourself that tantrums are developmentally normal. Have patience, validate their feelings and model calmness.
“If you don’t stop, we’re leaving.”
Threatening to leave or remove your child from a situation they want to stay in will likely escalate the tantrum. They will see it as losing, causing more defiance and intensity. Plus, you often can’t follow through with threats if you need to stay. Offer calm choices like taking a break in a quiet area. But try not to use threats.
“Stop it right now or else!”
Ultimatums without clear consequences won’t work. Tantrums are outbursts related to undeveloped ability to regulate emotions. Your toddler isn’t able to instantly stop just because you demand it. Specific warnings about logical outcomes are better, like “If you throw your toys, you’ll lose toy time.” But avoid empty threats that won’t be enforced.
“If you don’t stop, I’m calling the police!”
Threatening to call the police teaches your toddler to see officers as scary, not helpful. This lays the groundwork for distrust of police later on. Never use police as threats or discipline. If needed, say “If you don’t settle down, we will go sit quietly in your room.” Use logical, proportional consequences.
“Do you want all the other kids/people to think you’re a baby?”
Comments meant to shame your child into behaving will damage self-esteem. Avoid comparing your toddler to siblings or peers during tantrums. Instead, offer empathy: “It’s hard when you can’t have what you want. Let’s take some deep breaths together.” Model calmness and validate their feelings.
“I’m going to count to 3 – 1, 2…”
Counting down implies big consequences if your toddler doesn’t comply by 3. But harsh punishments aren’t appropriate for normal tantrum behavior. Empty threats also backfire when unenforceable. Instead, acknowledge emotions: “I see you’re very angry. Let’s go sit quietly and talk about this.” Move to a calm environment.
“Do you need your diaper changed?”
Toddlers hate when tantrums are dismissed as the result of being tired or in a wet diaper. Comments like this embarrass and invalidate their big feelings. Acknowledge the emotion: “It’s no fun when you can’t have cookies now. I get sad about that too sometimes.” Offer comfort and guidance. Check physical needs after they calm down.
“I’ll give you something to really cry about!”
Vague threats frighten your toddler and undermine trust. Spanking or intimidation is never appropriate, even when frustrated. Instead, enforce logical consequences like short timeout for hitting. Validate feelings over missing out on something desired. Harsh overreactions make meltdowns worse.
“If you don’t stop, Santa/the Easter Bunny won’t come.”
Threatening loss of holidays/gifts creates anxiety. And you can’t actually control what Santa does! Never use gifts, food or vacations as threats. Instead, give a warning: “If you throw your toy again, toy time is over because thrown toys can hurt.” Use immediate, enforceable consequences.
“You’re being a spoiled brat.”
Name-calling, even terms like “brat,” damages self-esteem. Tantrums often come from emotional immaturity, not spoiledness. Understand that meltdowns are normal at this age as kids learn self-regulation. Empathize instead of judging: “It’s hard when we don’t get our way. Let’s take some deep breaths.”
“Stop crying or you can’t watch TV.”
Taking away unrelated privileges like TV during tantrums isn’t logical or helpful. Toddlers see this as unfair punishment, leading to more intensity. Enforce brief, directly related consequences like toy timeout for throwing. Avoid arbitrary, future punishments that disconnect behavior from outcome.
Ignoring tantrums denies your child comfort and teaching in a moment of need. Remain engaged, empathetic and present. Say things like “I’m here. Let it out. I know you’re disappointed right now. Let’s talk through this.” Stay calm, validate feelings, enforce logical consequences and show love. This guides rather than shames.
The bottom line is avoid threats, shaming and arbitrary punishments during tantrums. Instead, comfort your child, acknowledge big feelings, redirect to calm environments and use logical, proportional consequences. Your reactions can help toddlers learn to regulate emotions and express themselves constructively.