Zip Code:
Provider Type:

          How to Stop a Temper Tantrum in Seconds

          February 03, 2004

          Dr. Harvey Karp is a board-certified pediatrician, associate professor of pediatrics at UCLA School of Medicine and the author of the book and DVD The Happiest Toddler on the Block, in bookstores now. He offers advice on understanding your toddler and how to stop your child’s temper tantrum in seconds:

          It helps to think of your toddler as sort of a caveman. With all their grunting and grabbing, toddlers often seem quite primitive. To communicate with them, you have to speak in a primitive and almost prehistoric type of language — Toddler-ese — with lots of gestures. It needs to be as energetic and dramatic as the child is being. To speak Toddler-ese, use:

          • Short phrases.
          • Tons of repetition.
          • A passionate tone of voice.
          • Lots of exaggerated facial expressions and body gestures (like big smiles, frowns and vigorous pointing).

            Parents do this already when a child is happy, they're way over the top. But when kids are upset, parents try to be calm and logical. Parents need to be over the top whether the child is happy or upset.

            Follow the Fast-Food Rule. This rule is simple: When your child is upset, you should take a lesson from the order-takers at a burger joint — always repeat back his "order" (what he wants) before you tell him your "price" (what you want). Toddlers who are in the middle of a meltdown are incapable of hearing our message (our reasons, reassurance, distraction or warning) until they're sure we understand and respect their message. So when your tot is upset, before you mention your ideas, take a minute to sincerely describe what he's doing and how you think he feels.

            When using Toddler-ese and the Fast-Food Rule, children are much more reasonable because they feel respected and heard. Otherwise, they don't think we understand them.

            Here's an example. Your bored 15-months-old child toddles over to the front door, bangs on it and screeches to go to the yard. Whether you intend to go out or not, the first thing you should do is reflect his message by energetically and lovingly saying, "Out! Out! Out!! You say, 'Go, Mommy, go, GO!!!'" Once your son calms a little, then you can go out with him or offer some options or a distraction.

            If your child is screaming because you took away the lipstick he was using as a crayon, passionately echo his feelings by saying, "You want! YOU want!!! You want it nowwww!! You want! YOU want!! You want it nowwww!!" Notice the repetition, the short phrasing, and the way the sentence builds up to the final emphasized word. You should be energetic, but never shouting.

            Don't be surprised if it takes four or five repetitions before you even begin to get your little buddy's attention! You'll know you're making progress when he suddenly looks up, as if he's thinking, What? Did you say sumptin'? But don't stop then. When he's really upset, you may need to repeat his feelings another five to 10 times before he realizes that you really "get it" and that you're on his side.

            For more information about Dr. Karp, see his first appearance on the show: "Parenting 101: FAQ's" and his technique for calming a crying baby or go to

          Phil in the Blanks – The Podcast

          Tell Us Your Story

          Be on the Show! Text “PHIL” to 88500

          Want to Be on the New Show “Face the Truth”?

          Want to be on “Face the Truth”, a new show by Stage 29 Productions (producer of “The Doctors”), hosted by Vivica A. Fox?

          Be on the Show

          Explosive Family Drama?

          Does everyone in your family have strong personalities and refuse to back down?

          Be on the Show

          Need Dr. Phil’s Help?

          Share your story for a chance to be on the show!

          Help & Resources

          Find Treatment Centers and Therapists!

          Check out the mental health treatment programs that have assisted Dr. Phil guests.

          Feeding America

          Learn how you can help feed a family struggling with hunger during the holidays.

          Be on the Show

          Have a Story Dr. Phil Won’t Believe?

          Want to appear on Dr. Phil? Text PHIL to 88500

          Simple Share Buttons
          Simple Share Buttons