How I Stop Temper Tantrums

in Henry, Pregnancy

When parenting is fun and lighthearted, it is easy, fulfilling, and wonderful.  And truly – it’s like that more often than not.  But on a daily basis, parenting can also be hard.  I’m talking about the cranky meltdowns, the temper tantrums, and the complicated behavioral stuff, plus your own constant self-doubt and fear that you’re somehow doing it wrong. 


A two year old is a tiny person.  As much as we’d all love to, you cannot control a toddler’s thoughts and feelings anymore than you can control another adult’s.  Kids are individuals, too.  Toddlers want what they want, when they want it.  And they have no perspective on whether their ‘problems’ are actually problems at all.  Henry feels everything so, so deeply that I sometimes feel sorry for him.  A meltdown over a broken cracker?  It happens.  Every single day… sobbing hysterically as he holds two jagged pieces in his hands, trying to stick them back together through snotty gulps.


I read parenting advice articles all the time – I can use all the help I can get.  I don’t agree with everything I read or always think it could apply to my family, but I try to always glean a larger message from the pieces.  And I get so many good ideas.  But there has been one piece of advice that has truly stood out and carried me through so many toddler temper tantrums, so I wanted to share it here:


Hug it out.


Kids freak out.  A lot.  It’s normal.  It’s so challenging as a parent to take a deep breath and respond with understanding and patience.  Because the temper tantrums don’t happen in a vacuum, do they?  Occasionally (rarely!), the flip outs occur when I am well-rested, caught up on all my work, fully caffeinated, and in a great mood.  It’s easy to deal with it then.  But more often than not, the flip outs happen when I’m exhausted, beaten down, feeling crabby, and my blood sugar is tanking.  Truthfully, my biggest parenting challenge up to this point has been to respond with love when I feel like shit.  When your kid is flailing around, screaming hysterically because the cracker is now in two freaking pieces, all you want to do is yell.  Or snap.  Or stomp away.


That’s why I love this advice.


When my kid is tantruming, I hug him.  It’s so simple that any sleep-deprived parent can do it! I get down on my knees and open my arms and ask to give him a hug.  Sometimes, Henry will immediately fall into my arms, sobbing with relief that I’m offering the stability and comfort he so desperately needs.  We rock back in forth in our embrace in total silence for a while.  It gives him and me a chance to step back, BREATHE, and reflect. I quietly start talking it through with him.  I remind him of acceptable behavior.  We make plans to clean up messes or put away the thrown toys.  Other times, he will take one look at my hug offer, scream NO!, and push me away.  But I just sit there, arms open and waiting.   He always comes to me when he’s ready.


I believe in discipline when my child is simply being defiant.  I believe in the power of Time Outs (oh, I BELIEEEEVE!).  We follow 1-2-3 Magic and I cannot say enough good things about the technique.  But when my toddler is melting down because he’s tired or hungry or cranky or sick or bored or scared – the hug works.  The hug really, really works.


I read once that parents affectionately touch boys less than girls.  This starts almost immediately after birth, and parents really begin to pull away physically from their sons as the boys grow up.  We stroke our daughter’s arms and brush aside her hair and lovingly hold her hand for no reason at all, but we tend to pull back from our Big Boys.  I imagine this creates stiff men who are afraid to comfort others through touch.  And to me, this is a shame – because nothing is more assuring than a hug.


I hug my son because I know that when I’m really upset, words aren’t always required.  Grand gestures aren’t necessarily needed.  I don’t want someone to magically fix my broken cracker.  I just want someone to connect with me.  I just want to hug it out.  And I hope, that when Henry is a grown man, he follows suit with the special people (both big and little) in his life.


<3 <3 <3  Hugs to you.



  • Jess September 18, 2014, 7:32 am

    Yes! When my Henry is having a hard time I try to tell him that I understand that its hard and ask him if a hug will help him feel better. You’re right that it helps mommy and toddler. How sad about parents being less physically affectionate with boys. My guy is a snuggler and I hope he stays that way!

  • Julie @ Peanut Butter Fingers September 18, 2014, 7:44 am

    When I’m around you and Henry together it’s so clear to see what an amazing relationship you have with your adorable son. I just love that little man so much and really feel like you are raising him to be such a thoughtful, polite, friendly and intelligent person. <3 Tell him Julie and Julie (err… Sadie) miss him and hope to see him soon!

  • Linda@ Fit Fed and Happy September 18, 2014, 8:00 am

    You’re a very intuitive and understanding mother! I was. raosed through the dear of pu ishment instead of love.

  • Brynn September 18, 2014, 8:02 am

    Really interesting, love this idea of offering stability. I can’t wait to check out more of 1-2-3. Thanks for sharing!

  • Anne @ fannetasticfood September 18, 2014, 8:42 am

    What a sweet and insightful post. Thank you for sharing your life with us 🙂

  • Victoria September 18, 2014, 8:49 am

    I love this suggestion. My one year old daughter is already showing her terrible two side, I’m anxious to get home and try this out should a meltdown occur tonight. Thanks for the tip!

  • Katie@LifesNextBigStep September 18, 2014, 8:58 am

    I love this. I think it is wonderful advice. As hard as it might be to do, I think the hug is beneficial to both parties. I know I melt into a puddle whenever I get a hug from my little one, which would help to brush off the anxiety I get from when the tantrum starts…brilliant…and I love your take on it. Beautiful written 🙂

  • Julia September 18, 2014, 9:15 am

    Very interesting research on parents touching boys less than girls. I have an 8 month old boy and I want him to always stay as cuddly as he is now! Would you do a post on 1-2-3 Magic?

  • Kristin September 18, 2014, 9:19 am

    This post made me so happy. As a new (8 weeks) mom to a boy I really took everything you said to heart. Thanks!

  • Megan September 18, 2014, 9:31 am

    This is a beautiful, wonderful post and great advice. As part of my job (I’m a counselor), I teach Positive Parenting classes. One of the best pieces of information I have taken from preparing for these classes is HALT – Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. It’s good to scan for both your child AND you to figure out what’s going on when misbehavior/miscommunication is happening. I bet you can scan while hugging 🙂

  • Marla September 18, 2014, 9:38 am

    This is one of my favorite posts you’ve ever written! I can so relate to the challenge/importance of responding with love when you feel shitty. I got all teary eyed at the part about boys receiving less affection than girls. My boys (one year old twins) are not at the tantrum age yet, but thank you for the great idea for how to help them through it when they are.

  • Lilit September 18, 2014, 9:45 am

    Which specific 1-2-3Magic product have you used and would recommend?

  • Tanya September 18, 2014, 9:49 am

    What a sweet post. From the perspective of a mom farther along the path, I will say hugging our boys can work. My 16 year old son gives me a hug pretty much on a daily basis (which I hear from friends is not necessarily normal from their boys). He’ll do it to thank me for making him a snack. Or because I’ve said I was feeling a little cranky. Sometimes for no reason at all.

  • Michelle @ A Healthy Mrs September 18, 2014, 9:53 am

    So sweet! And I LOVE the photo of Henry + Maggie <3

  • Angie September 18, 2014, 10:07 am

    I have 3 boys (and one girl), and it is very true that society seems to want us to be less touchy-feely with our boys as they grow up. I agree with you 100% – do not listen to “society”!

    My 14 year old boy can often be a surly teenager, but I still get, at a minimum, a hug and a kiss goodnight and an “I love you” from him every day. My 9 year old boy will still hold my hand walking to and from the bus stop (and won’t get on or off the bus without a kiss and a hug) and thrives on hugs and hair ruffling. Any my 3 year old boy definitely needs the “hug it out” therapy a lot.

    Girls are naturally more demonstrative with each other (lots of hugs among the tween/teen set), so it is easy to keep the physical contact with them. My 11 year old girl is perhaps less demonstrative than some of her friends, but she is still very touchy feely with us.

    Hugs just make all of us feel better 🙂

  • Lisa September 18, 2014, 10:31 am

    Love your posts! I don’t have children yet but I really hope you’re still blogging when i do so i can come back to your book suggestions. Thank you.

  • Tammy Root September 18, 2014, 10:45 am

    Hey Caitlin! I was wondering if you could talk about the 1-2-3- Magic plan. I went to their website but it is not clear to me what this is or what materials would be the best to purchase. I know you are super busy, so if you don’t have time, I totally understand. 🙂

  • Reenie September 18, 2014, 10:52 am

    Hugs are great!!

    That pic of Henry & Mags ~ too cute!! 🙂

  • Leslie September 18, 2014, 10:54 am

    Hi Caitlin! I work in children’s mental health am always on the lookout for posts and articles like you have written here from parents who are truly, “in the moment” with their own children. It goes over so much better than articles written by parenting “experts”. I love this so much! You are teaching Henry how to regulate his emotions and calm himself down, something children are not born knowing how to do and need to learn (and do not learn through yelling or punishment). At the same time, you are respecting his physical boundaries in allowing him to come to you and not forcing a hug when he’s not ready. Such fabulous advice I have copied it to the parent education coordinator at our centre!

  • Jessica September 18, 2014, 10:56 am

    Hi Caitlin,

    After reading this post and noting your instagram on healthy sleep I’m wondering if you could share your resources: books, blogs, articles, etc. That you have used in regards to having a new baby and parenting. I’m a month and a half away from a new baby being in our lives and don’t know where to begin with all the resources available.

  • Lyndsey September 18, 2014, 11:16 am

    I am not a child, but I really, really love a good hug when i’m upset or honestly, being irrational. Don’t EVER stop the hugging!

    I love this post 🙂

  • Emily @esquaredsouth September 18, 2014, 11:24 am

    I love this! While my husband and I don’t have children, I hope that we can use this same technique. My husband and I agreed early in our relationship that we would always hold hands when we would argue. It’s difficult sometimes when emotions are flaring, but the physical touch reminds us that we are always in it together.

  • Elizabeth September 18, 2014, 11:29 am

    I don’t have children but as a single adult, sometimes I just want to “hug it out” too! 🙂 You are a GREAT Mama Bear!

  • Sarah L September 18, 2014, 11:37 am

    I love this!

    This is exactly how I was raised (1,2,3..magic) and it honestly was very beneficial. As an adult I can calm myself down and also understand not to react quickly to stressful situations. When I’m having a full blown panic attack (I do have anxiety, but thats genetic) I just like to be hugged. Hugging a child, or adult, actually calms their nervous system and helps them calm down faster!

    Great post Caitlin 🙂

  • Jade September 18, 2014, 12:19 pm

    The sentence of “most don’t give boys as much affection” makes complete sense however my dude is such a cuddle bug that there doesn’t go a day that we don’t at least cuddle for like an hour or more, he just wants hugs all day long. I have yet to try the hug technique for his tantrums, but seeing as he loves them anyways I will try to do that more, I’ve been getting down to his level and trying to explain why we aren’t doing something which I find doesn’t work as he is only 2.

  • Bobbie September 18, 2014, 12:26 pm

    I loved this! My girls are no longer toddlers but I love the idea of just hugging it out with them. I am going to give this a try. Something so simple yet in almost 10 years of being a mother it is not a technique I’ve often used.
    Thanks for this!

  • Samantha September 18, 2014, 1:21 pm

    Love this! We are just entering into the tantrum stage and I can see this being incredibly effective

  • Rachael September 18, 2014, 1:30 pm

    Brilliant! I will tuck this in my pocket 🙂

  • Kelley September 18, 2014, 1:43 pm

    This is so beautiful. You’re an amazing mother!

  • Jill September 18, 2014, 2:06 pm

    Hugs are the best! I read something similar when my husband and I first got together (he had an 18 month old son) and I was worried that he might stop being affectionate. No worries. We are all ridiculously affectionate with each other, and our now-6 year old loves it, and our 20 month old goes back and forth between loving it and tolerating it (he is often on his way to play with something when we scoop him up for kisses and cuddles). It’s awesome to watch my tiny dude climb up onto my dad’s lap, only to be followed by our 6 year old who wants in on the cuddle action. I hope they always want snuggles, but we fully intend to hug the crap out of them forever, regardless 🙂 And we’ve noticed that during a freak-out, when we slow down, literally get down on their (much shorter than we are) level, they tend to calm down immediately. Hugs really are awesome. Great post 🙂

    • Katya September 18, 2014, 4:28 pm

      fantastic post! as a mum of a 2yr old (and a 5mth old) this really resonated with me! I agree, it can be so hard to respond in a positive manner sometimes….but we can always offer a hug! what a great response even if more is needed. thank you for the tip, I am going to try hugging it out more. I do give my little guy lots of cuddles but could probably do more when he is upset.

  • Monica September 18, 2014, 2:12 pm

    I love this. I try to do this with my (almost) 18 month old. Just getting down to her level and letting her know I’m there even usually helps. Great advice!

  • Emma September 18, 2014, 2:13 pm

    My heart just grew reading this.


  • Kat September 18, 2014, 2:39 pm

    This is very sweet! Now that I know that fact about parents being less affectionate with their boys, I will strive to consciously continue my affectionate ways with my little boy (8 months) as he continues to grow.
    I just recently heard somewhere, “it’s easier to raise boys properly than it is to fix a man”- or something to that effect. It makes sense!

    • Caitlin September 18, 2014, 4:45 pm

      Love that quote because it is so true.

  • Jess C September 18, 2014, 3:01 pm

    Caitlyn – thank you so much for this wonderful post. I have been reading up on positive parenting techniques for awhile now because my son is 18 months old and just wading into the deep end with the whole tantrums thing. This post is a nice reminder that sometimes all we really need is a hug and for someone to say it will all be okay 🙂 Thanks again – you are one of my parenting role models just because of your overall positive attitude and rational advice. I know there are likely hard moments and days for you, but just know that what you do makes a difference for your family and for all of your internet friends out here!

  • Melissa September 18, 2014, 3:12 pm

    Thank you for sharing this post!!! I am 18 weeks pregnant with my first baby, but I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about what kind of things I want to do as a parent, and what I want to my child to see and learn, and this is exactly it. I want them to see and feel LOVE all the time. I am not the most patient person in the world, and balancing work, grad school, life and a new baby terrifies me sometimes, so thank you for reminding me that really its all about showing this sweet child love and taking a deep breathe. Bookmarking for down the road 🙂

  • Hannah September 18, 2014, 4:02 pm

    I’m not a mom yet, but I babysit and hangout with kids a LOT. This article provides such a good idea and strategy that I thoroughly appreciate! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for loving your son so well!

  • Ashley September 18, 2014, 6:21 pm

    I really like this. What a great thing to teach your child – to calm themselves with affection from others when upset. I am not even close to thinking about children right now (getting through a PhD, haha), but will definitely keep this tip in mind. Really smart.

    • Ashley September 18, 2014, 6:22 pm

      Ps. I love his tiny, adorable legs in that photo

  • Ellen September 18, 2014, 8:40 pm

    Depending on the circumstances I either ignore my two year old, put him in his room which works wonders or hug him. Sometimes I just have to let him know his behavior is not ok! On the flip side I have never been as affectionate with any one as I am w my son. He is also extremely affectionate. Everyday when we get home he needs to sit with me for twenty minutes just to reconnect. He is soooo sweet that way and I will be so sad when he becomes less affectionate:( temper tantrums a little kid emotions are hard it’s a new lesson every day.

  • Lucia September 18, 2014, 10:16 pm

    Thanks for the reminder! My son is just a few days younger than H and I love reading about your parenting style, especially when dealing with theses challenging little people. Now off to finish reading 1-2-3 🙂

  • Rebecca September 18, 2014, 10:48 pm

    I love hugs, and sometimes that’s all it takes to make me feel a little better, so I can only imagine how great it can be for a kiddo! I’m constantly at least ruffling hair of little ones when I see them, and sometimes I get hugs. It seems so sad that we don’t hug boys as much, so it’s great to see families who do stay affectionate with their boys as they grow. There are a couple of teenage boys at church I can get a hug out of, which is cool. And I almost always get hugs from a couple of older guys who are like family when I see them. 🙂
    I wish hugging had worked last night with a teething little guy. I had nothing good for him to gnaw on after the crackers ran out, and he wouldn’t stop crying. Not even holding him and trying to hug helped. It was a rough hour…

  • Laura Ann September 19, 2014, 1:17 am

    YES!! Hug it out! I work with parents and toddlers (and am gearing up for the toddler years now that I have a newborn), and I love these kind of techniques.

    If you haven’t already found these, you might be interested: has tons of excellent advice similar to this. Her new book, ‘Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting’ looks to be a wonderful resource.

    Another good book is ‘The Emotional Life of the Toddler.’

    Thank you for sharing your simple, but powerful nurturing technique. Henry is beyond fortunate to have you.

  • Janine September 19, 2014, 1:35 am

    I have a 20mo old son and I have also read something similar about boys being touched less and I can hardly believe it. I think I still give him 100 kisses over the course of the day.. some just to be swatted away at this point (rude), but I can’t imagine not holding his hand and giving him snuggles all the time 🙂

  • Liz September 19, 2014, 7:05 am

    Ahh, the power of a hug!! I do this with my daughter as well. My favorite is when I ask her mid tantrum if she wants a hug and through her tears she screams “Yes!” and runs toward me. It really does help us both! What an interesting bit of information about parents/families being less affectionate with boys! Our baby boy will be here in 4 weeks and I hope he’s a snuggler just like my daughter.
    I would also be interested in hearing more about 1 2 3 Magic.

  • Jo September 19, 2014, 7:20 am

    I love you so much! I don’t have children yet but some of my friends do and I’ve been thinking about the type of parent I want to be if/when I do have them. I was thinking about this very thing just the other day, I really really believe that if a toddler is having a meltdown, hugging them until they’re calm is the best solution. They want to feel secure and loved even when they’re distraught over their broken cracker! Adults are often the same, when I’m cranky my boyfriend often doesn’t know what to say and I told him you don’t have to say anything, usually just a hug will make it all better and snap me out of it. A hug or some form of human touch can make a difference in so many situations. I’ve been reading your blog for a few years and I’ve loved seeing you become a mum! I’m English (Hi Kristien!) so I very rarely say this but you really are an inspiration. Lots of love from London, Jo x

  • Sarah September 19, 2014, 10:40 am

    I LOVE THIS!!!! Such a great post!!! I can’t say it enough.

  • Molly September 19, 2014, 1:16 pm

    I rarely comment but this is one of my favorites of your posts! My love language (& husband’s) is touch. My little guy is a few months younger than Henry but when we meet a little tantrum with a hug we both feel better. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Suzy September 19, 2014, 1:47 pm

    Such a sweet post! Thank you: )

    I love hugging my son. I still massage him at bedtime and stoke his head. Boy or girl, I think every kid needs to be touched a whole lot. I’m actually taking an online course on the science of happiness and it talks about touch being such an important part of our well being and connecting to each other.

    I need to check out 1-2-3 Magic. We are just starting to get into the tantrum stage, and I love to read different techniques and see what fits. I’m a big fan of Dr. Karp and his Happiest Baby/Toddler methods.

  • Emily September 19, 2014, 3:55 pm

    Love this so much!!!!!!!

  • Sandi September 19, 2014, 6:15 pm

    I never comment but wanted to say that I have a VERY energetic and sometimes challenging 20 month old Daughter. I read the same advice to ‘hug it out’ — I was VERY skeptical because she can have some crazy meltdowns- but when I tried it she responded instantly with relief. The little bit of outreach to get down to the their level, offer a hug and see them fall into your arms is the perfect recoup for me and distraction for her to ‘snap’ her out of her meltdown. It really does work like magic! I’m glad you’re sharing this 🙂

  • Sara September 19, 2014, 10:34 pm

    This is so awesome. I am not a mom but I hope that when I am one day I hope to have the kind of relationship you have with Henry. He is beyond adorable. On a totally unrelated note, because of your blog I volunteered for a GOTR team where I live and we start next week-I am SO excited! Thanks for being such a great mommy and role model!

  • Aerevyn September 20, 2014, 5:28 pm

    You are so incredibly sane. Thank you for this post.

  • Jen September 22, 2014, 1:49 am

    I like this. I like it a LOT! Hugs to you and your beautiful family!!!

  • Carly September 22, 2014, 11:05 am

    LOVE this! My twins are 15 months and one of them already throws tantrums. Without even thinking about it, I just grab him and hug him. I like how you wait for him to hug you and I can totally see that happening for us when my boys are a bit older and understand. It also made me sad to read that parents are less physically affectionate with boys. I snuggle my boys every single day, multiple times per day (against their will sometimes, oh are they so independent right now and fight the snuggle unless they are tired!) I think being a mama to boys is so special 🙂

  • Stephanie @ Whole Health Dork September 22, 2014, 3:30 pm

    What a great idea! Such a beautiful way to say, “I get it, it’s tough right now, but we’ll figure it out together.”

  • Jenny September 22, 2014, 3:30 pm

    Wow! Thank you! I have NEVER heard this advice and I instantly loved it. We don’t have a child yet, but I never want to forget this. Again, thank you for sharing.

  • Amy September 23, 2014, 6:35 am

    I love that you use 1-2-3 magic. I learned this technique years ago when I counseled children and families and it really works and keeps everyone’s dignity in check. I belong to an attachment parenting group, not because I drink the Kool aid, but because if there is a gentle solution to a problem I am all about that. I think 1-2-3 Magic falls into that category but in this group people were ripping it apart because the back cover asked “who’s in control at your house?” and the group went wild about parents trying to control their kids…really? You think it is hurting your child’s attachment to learn how to behave and to see mommy disciplining in a way that takes bargaining and arguing out of the equation? It’s is a great system, doesn’t work for everything…who’s going to give their kids three tries with running into the road? But, boy, that every day stuff really melts into the back ground. Love it! And who doesn’t love to hug it out too? Great post!

    • Caitlin September 23, 2014, 7:48 am

      Uhhh I definitely want to be in control of my kids, especially if the alternative is my kids being in control of me. Hah!

  • Nicole September 24, 2014, 1:57 pm

    How do you handle it in public? Do you “hug it out” then, too? I am really curious. I’m 34 weeks pregnant with my first and the idea of temper tantrums scare me! I love this technique:)

    • Caitlin September 24, 2014, 2:58 pm

      Haha they are kind of scary. They are super embarassing but I always remind myself that they happen to EVERY parent. Generally, 1-2-3 Magic does not stop Henry’s tantrums once they really start going… I kind of try to nip it in the bud (like if he is starting to whine for something, I do 1-2-3 to try to stop it). But when he does the full-blown tantrums, I either hug it out, ignore him, or remove him from the situation – whatever I think will reduce the problem the fastest.

  • Sharon T November 5, 2015, 6:02 pm

    I hope this isn’t my second comment. :I
    I love this post, and it works! I have a 2 year old girl and a little boy on the way. What a great reminder to continue along the same affectionate path with him!!

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