Tantrums In Children

Tantrums In Children

Tantrums are common in tamariki (children). They are a normal part of child development. Find out what you can do when they happen.

Avoiding tantrums when shopping with kids

Video of a Dad's experience with tantrums in his tamariki.

Video by Tākai. 


Key points about tantrums 

  • most tamariki will have tantrums - it is a normal part of their development  
  • tantrums can look different in different tamariki
  • for young tamariki, tantrums happen when they’re overwhelmed by strong emotions
  • you can reduce tantrums by looking out for tantrum triggers and avoiding them
  • having a plan for how to manage tantrums can help you support your child when they happen

What are tantrums?

A tantrum is an outburst of strong feelings. Tantrums can look different in different tamariki. You may see screaming, kicking, running away, or falling down. Some tamariki may hurt themselves or other people during a tantrum. 

Why do tantrums happen? 

Younger tamariki may not have the words or actions to express their emotions. Some tamariki can have tantrums if they are overwhelmed. 

Common triggers that lead to tantrums include:

  • tiredness
  • having a busy day
  • stress
  • feeling overwhelmed 
  • feeling strong emotions such as worry or anger
  • not knowing how to cope with a situation such as another child taking away a toy
  • hunger

The Raising Children Australia website has more information on why tantrums happen and how to manage them.

Screenshot of the raising children website

How can I reduce tantrums?

Being prepared for situations when a tantrum may happen can help you to manage it. Here are some other ways you can reduce the chance of tantrums happening.


Follow a routine with your child and stick to it where possible. If your child knows what to expect and when to expect things, it can help reduce the chance of tantrums. 


Offer your child choices where possible. This helps them to learn independence which can prevent power struggles. 


Some tamariki will have tantrums because they can’t express their feelings. Encourage your child to express themselves by using their words and actions.

Teach your child simple phrases and words for different feelings - words and phrases they can understand. You can do this from birth by using words to label feelings like ‘happy’, ‘sad’, ‘tired’ and ‘hungry’.

Know triggers

Pay attention to situations or events that often lead to tantrums in your child. If you know which triggers are likely to cause a tantrum, try to take steps to prevent them. 

Model calm behaviour

This can be difficult. Tamariki often copy the behaviour of the adults around them. Practice staying calm and patient during difficult situations. Be aware of your own emotions and how you’re expressing them. Your behaviour sets an example for your child to follow.

How can I support my child during a tantrum? 

Sometimes tantrums happen. How you handle tantrums depends on your child's age.

With toddlers, stay with them and give them comfort. Let your child know you understand how they feel. Showing love supports tamariki to feel safe and manage big emotions.

For older children, you can also try these 5 steps to help them calm down:

  • ask them to identify the emotion they are feeling
  • name the emotion
  • take a pause
  • support your child as they calm down
  • talk about the issue that caused the tantrum

See the Raising Children Australia website for more tips and ideas on helping calm your child down.

Screenshot of the raising children australia website

Alongside supporting your child during a tantrum, it’s important they are safe. Sometimes you may need to carry your child somewhere else. Once they are in a safe place, acknowledge the emotion they are showing. 

Stay quietly and calmly with your child until they calm down. Be consistent about not giving in to demands. This will help your child learn that tantrums don’t help them get what they want.

How can I manage my own feelings during a tantrum? 

Staying calm while your child has a tantrum will help model calm behaviour. Here are some ways to help you remain calm if your child is having a tantrum:

  • have a plan for tantrums and use it when they happen
  • remember you can’t control your child's emotions, but you can keep them safe and guide their behaviour
  • try to keep a sense of humour
  • remember tamariki grow out of tantrums
  • focus on your child rather than judgement from strangers
  • talk to friends and whānau about your experiences and ask them for support 

Sometimes the frustration parents and whānau experience can turn into anger. Tamariki learn how to manage their emotions by watching people around them. If you let your anger out in harmful ways, it hurts your kids. It can damage your relationship with them and can make tantrums worse.

Tākai has a resource with tips and suggestions on ways you and your child can manage emotions in a healthy way. Poipoia te tamaiti | Staying calm with kids (PDF, 6.9MB).

front cover of the poipoia te tamaiti booklet

Where can I find help and support?

Childhood tantrums can be stressful and frustrating for parents and whānau. If you are finding it difficult, there is support available. You can contact PlunketLine, your Well Child provider or your general practice clinic if you are finding it challenging to manage this phase. 


Call PlunketLine 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0800 933 922.

PlunketLine is available 24 hours a day for advice and support for you, your child and your whānau. Calls are free from cell phones. You do not need to be registered with Plunket to use this service.

Plunket logo
Call PlunketLine on 0800 933 922 for parenting advice.

Where can I learn more about managing childhood tantrums?

The Tākai website has some resources for parents and whānau to help them manage and have conversations about tantrums.

screenshot of the Tākai website

The tricky bits is a resource developed by Tākai. It includes some helpful ways to deal with tantrums (PDF, 862KB).

tantrums page from the Takai resource booklet

The pages on tantrums come from the booklet 'Tamaiti wāwāhi tahā | The tricky bits' developed by Tākai. (PDF, 9.3MB). As well as tantrums, the booklet has tips about surviving the supermarket, jealousy and fighting and learning to use the toilet.

front cover of the tricky bits booklet by Tākai

Take a look at the Plunket website for more information on how to deal with tantrums. 

screenshot of plunket website section on tantrums

This page last reviewed 20 December 2023.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it