Tips for Taming Toddler Tantrums Without Treats

18 Months-3 Years

As frustrating as tantrums can be, they are pretty typical at this age because your toddler is still learning to cope with his emotions. There are a number of different theories on how to best discipline a tantrum-throwing toddler, but this article isn’t about disciplining. It’s about why offering food is not the answer to calming a tantrum.

Find out how you can use simple food parenting techniques to tame a tantrum without using treats.

Why food bribes backfire

When your 2-year-old is in full-blown tantrum mode, it’s easy to use food to soothe or calm him. But before you promise him a brownie if he settles down, know that using food to help manage your child’s behavior can actually make things worse.

Tip: When you bribe your child with treats for good behavior, he’s quick to learn that tantrums earn a reward. He also learns to use food to cope with emotions and that he’s not capable of behaving without bribery.

5 tips for taming tantrums without food

  • Children learn to cope with emotions by watching adults, so try to stay patient and set a good example.
  • Speak calmly, firmly, lovingly. Acknowledge his emotions and help him put them into words. Like, “I know you’re sad. Please tell me what you’re sad about.”
  • Sure, he’s only 2, but he can also understand what’s expected of him. Calmly say, “I know you’re upset, but no screaming.” 
  • Toddlers like to feel in control, so when he’s in tantrum mode, offer choices from options you provide. “Do you want your water in the red cup or blue cup?” instead of “You’re having water.”
  • When it’s over, praise your child for settling down. Toddlers live in the moment, so positive reinforcement at the time of good behavior is key.

3 ways to avoid tantrums

Your toddler might be tantrum-prone, but she really wants to be terrific—it genuinely makes her happy to please you. Try these tips:

  • Help her learn your expectations by recognizing her good behavior (putting away toys, etc.). This will encourage more good behavior.
  • Help keep tantrums from starting by putting off-limit items out of sight and out of mind. Your child will be less likely to have a meltdown over the remote control if she doesn’t see it.
  • Remember: The only time to tame your child’s tantrum with food is when she’s actually hungry! Temper tantrums are more likely to happen when she’s hungry or sleepy, so be sure to have a meal and snack schedule in place.