When saying no to your toddler causes a crying, screaming tantrum, it’s understandable to end up feeling angry and frustrated.

But how you respond to your child’s behaviour has ramifications for the results you want – and could even help prevent a full-blown meltdown.

Child psychologist and mother of four Sally-Anne McCormack says toddlers are experts at tantrums because they cannot use words to explain how they feel. And while it can be tempting to raise your voice in response, it isn’t always the best option.

“Your toddler looks to you to show her how to deal with her overwhelming feelings, so if you shout and yell, you are teaching her a type of behaviour you do not want her to learn,” says Sally-Anne.

Here’s how to keep your cool in these common toddler meltdown scenarios…

Have you been on the receiving end of a look similar to this? Know that you’re not alone.

Playground play up

You’ve had a lovely time in the park, but now your toddler doesn’t want to leave and she’s intent on making her feelings known.

“Don’t feel embarrassed – every other parent in the park has faced the same situation at some stage,” says Sally-Anne.

“Be firm and direct with your child, but don’t beg or ask. Use assertive – not angry – language to tell your child it is time to go now.”


Press your mental pause button. “Take a moment to ‘freeze the scene’. Take a few steps back – literally – to help yourself calm down,” says Sally-Anne.

“Create an image in your head of how you want things to happen, then tell – don’t ask – your toddler in a direct and assertive manner that it is time to leave. Explain what she is going to do next, such as have afternoon tea or visit Grandma, so there is something interesting to distract her and she has something to look forward to.”

Praise her when she finally acquiesces.

Bathtime battle

It’s time for bed but your toddler won’t get into the bath, and then she won’t get out.

“Little kids snap because they are tired, and we snap back for exactly the same reason,” says Sally-Anne.

If you’ve had a tough day, don’t feel bad about turning on the television for 10 minutes so you can have downtime before getting your toddler through the bath and bed routine.


Expect your toddler to do what you’re asking. “Be clear and specific,” says Sally-Anne. “Remind her of the process and that she needs to be quick, so there’s still time to read the bedtime story.”

Still riled up afterwards? “Put your feet up, watch TV or phone a friend – whatever works to calm down,” says Sally-Anne.

“Little kids snap because they are tired, and we snap back for exactly the same reason,” says Sally-Anne.

Shoe refusal

You’re running late and she refuses to put on her shoes.

“We’re often pushed for time,” says Sally-Anne. “But your toddler does not follow the same timetable as you do! She has started to develop her independence and wants to do things in her own time.”


Take a deep breath and stay calm. “Use your acting skills and pretend it’s not a big deal. If you keep calm, your child is likely to follow,” says Sally-Anne. “If your stress levels come down, your child will feel less pressure and will hopefully put on her shoes without arguing.”

Sibling squabbles

She’s grabbed one of his toys and now they’re both screaming.

“Sibling rivalry is a healthy way of learning how to interact with others,” says Sally-Anne.

While it’s helpful to teach your older child ways to negotiate the sharing of toys (but talk to her in a separate room to avoid taking sides), remember you’re the adult, so be the calm, controlled influence.


“If no-one is being physically hurt, and it is not the one child who always dominates, try to steer clear of sibling arguments,” says Sally-Anne.

“Parents get upset when their children fight, but you have to remember that your children are not trying to upset you. They are behaving this way because they are overwhelmed with their feelings.”

A squabble is usually over quickly, so let it play itself out without getting involved.

Does your child happily eat their vegies or is dinner time a battlefield?

Mealtime madness

You’ve spent hours making dinner but, without even tasting it, your toddler swipes her bowl onto the floor. “Preparing meals is a nurturing activity that takes time and effort.

It can be hurtful and offensive when children behave this way, and may provoke a powerful emotional response in parents,” says Sally-Anne.


Let your partner know if this is one of your trouble spots. “This is the perfect opportunity for your partner to take the reins and diffuse the situation before you overreact or get stressed,” says Sally-Anne.

If you’re by yourself, use your acting skills to behave as though you are not upset about your child’s behaviour. “Pretend not to hear her tantrum and, when you have taken a few deep breaths, just pick up the bowl.

Remember that this is simply what children do, and keep in mind this event will be forgotten in the next half an hour, so probably isn’t significant in the bigger scheme of things.”

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No doubt, there will be more scenarios where your child will really press your buttons.

Here’s how to control your temper

BREATHE: Take a couple of deep breaths to slow down your heart rate and help induce a state of calmness.

HAVE A TIME-OUT: Physically step back from your toddler and create some space to compose yourself before talking to her.

KEEP IT SIMPLE: Explain in short, easy language why you became upset. She may not even know what it was she did that upset you.

Be firm but calm Make it clear exactly what sort of behaviour you expect from her in the same circumstances in future.

SAY SORRY: If you cannot control your anger and end up shouting at her, apologise to your toddler and explain you were wrong – this models the appropriate behaviour for when she gets angry in the future.

REMEMBER, NO ONE IS PERFECT: There are no perfect parents, just as there are no perfect children.

Keep in mind when you make mistakes that it’s helpful for your toddler to know she will be fine if she makes mistakes, too!