How to Deal: Tantrums on the Trail

Every kid has them.  Every parent hates them.  You know what I’m talking about – TANTRUMS!!

When you have little kids, tantrums can be an almost every day occurence.  After surviving Mason as a 2 and 3 year old, I feel like I should be given a medal for withstanding all his screaming.  I felt like he was a time-bomb all the time.  Tantrums are truly a force to be reckoned with.  Recently, I was talking with one of my friends about her 2 year old.  She could not understand what was wrong with him.  He would have several tantrums a week and they would often last for an hour or two.  Well, rest assured, mothers of screamers – your kids are about as normal as they come.  Unfortunately, for everyone, tantrums are a big part of the toddler years.  Between the ages of 2 and 3, kids are really trying to figure things out and understand how they fit in with everything around them.

According to the Mayo Clinic “A tantrum is the expression of a child’s frustration with the physical, mental or emotional challenges of the moment. Physical challenges are things such as hunger and thirst. Mental challenges are related to a child’s difficulty learning or performing a specific task, or difficulty using words to express thoughts and feelings. Emotional challenges are more open to speculation. Still, whatever the challenge, frustration with the situation may fuel a child’s anger — and erupt in a tantrum.”

Now why are we talking about this today?  Well, if you have a child who is very prone to tantrums, it can quickly put a damper on your outdoor adventures, or halt them altogether.  Who is really crazy enough to willingly put themselves miles from civilization with a screaming toddler?  The thought is enough to make even the most patient parent run from the room.

While tantrums are not totally avoidable, here are a few tips to deal with tantrums on the trail.

Here’s more of what the Mayo Clinic says about dealing with tantrums in general

  • Be consistent. Establish a daily routine so that your child knows what to expect. Stick to the routine as much as possible, including nap time and bedtime. It’s also important to set reasonable limits and follow them consistently.
  • Plan ahead. If you need to run errands, go early in the day — when your child isn’t likely to be hungry or tired. If you’re expecting to wait in line, pack a small toy or snack to occupy your child.
  • Encourage your child to use words. Young children understand many more words than they’re able to express. If your child isn’t speaking — or speaking clearly — you might teach him or her sign language for words such as “I want,” “more,” “enough,” “hurt” and “tired.” The more easily your child can communicate with you, the less likely you are to struggle with tantrums. As your child gets older, help him or her put feelings into words.
  • Let your child make choices. To give your child a sense of control, let him or her make appropriate choices. Would you like to wear your red shirt or your blue shirt? Would you like to eat strawberries or bananas? Would you like to read a book or build a tower with your blocks? Then complement your child on his or her choices.
  • Praise good behavior. Offer extra attention when your child behaves well. Tell your child how proud you are when he or she shares toys, listens to directions, and so on.
  • Use distraction. If you sense a tantrum brewing, distract your child. Try making a silly face or changing location. It may help to touch or hold your child.
  • Avoid situations likely to trigger tantrums. If your child begs for toys or treats when you shop, steer clear of “temptation islands” full of eye-level goodies. If your child acts up in restaurants, make reservations so that you won’t have to wait — or choose restaurants that offer quick service.
Although this list is long, it is full of incredible advice that if used consistently, can help make your lives, and hopefully adventures, more sane.  One thing that’s important to think about when dealing with our kids tantrums is that our children are not deliberately trying to make us lose our minds (just a nice side effect?)  On days that my kids are off the walls, I find that often when Andrew walks in the door, they’re all smiles while I’m on the verge of tears.  For me, I find that tantrums are usually more difficult for me to deal with than my kids.  If you’re on the trail and none of the tips above work, feel free to remove yourself from the situation for a while.  Sit your little one down on a rock and take a few steps back to revive your sanity (or better yet, tell someone else to watch them for a few minutes so you can relax).  Ultimately, 10 years from now, your kid probably won’t remember the hike where they screamed for 3 hours straight, but you will.  Don’t feel guilty for taking a break from your child during their tantrum so that 1. you can continue to be a good parent for the rest of the day and 2. so that it doesn’t make such a bad impression on you that you don’t want to get out with your kids again until they’re 20 (scary).
Right now, we’re coasting by.  Mason’s mostly over his tantrums and Chloe hasn’t started them much…at least not today!  Wish us luck – I’m sure that she’ll learn she’s 2 any day now!


  • Family Wilds says:

    These are good points. We’re not at two yet, but we’ve definitely found that working on our daughter’s communication skills and allowing her to make choices have been really helpful when we’re out on the trail. We work really hard at keeping her actively engaged as well, which really helps, but we all know that there are still just some of those days 🙂 Great post ( and that’s coming from two behavior analysts by the way)!

  • braveskimom says:

    I hate to say this, but sometimes they don’t outgrow the tantrums! I guess they’re not really tantrums, but what do you call a 10 year old who stops in the trail, announces that “biking is stupid,” and resists all entreaties to further forward motion? A tantrum? Kind of fits the Mayo definition! I think the tips would work for kids (and adults) of all ages!

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