Preschooler tantrum


Guiding Preschoolers

Your preschooler will test your limits. He may talk back or break rules on purpose. This is part of how he learns your rules and values. On the other hand, now he understands what you want and follows directions more easily. Set reasonable limits, and praise him for good behavior. Try to set a good example. If you show that you can disagree without getting angry or violent, your child learns to respond that way, too.

Where to Find Help

Centers for Disease Control
Information for parents on child development, vaccines, food safety, and more.

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline
Help with discipline problems and parent stress; child abuse prevention.

National Parent Helpline
Emotional and practical support for parents and caregivers.

More Resources

Things You Can Do

Encourage Good Behavior

  • Set a good example. Show the behavior that you want from your child.

  • Help him express his feelings with words, rather than hitting.

  • Teach responsibility in small steps. Start with simple things, like picking up toys.

Discipline Your Child with Care

  • Talk to your child in a serious but loving voice.

  • In simple terms, explain what is OK for him to do and what is not. Tell him why. Tell him what will happen if he keeps doing it.

  • Avoid spanking, hitting, and yelling. These actions can hurt him physically and emotionally. They also set a bad example.

  • If you feel you are losing your temper and may hit your child, you can get help. You can talk to someone who can help you calm down. You do not have to give your name. Call Childhelp or the National Parent Helpline.

Be Smart About Screen Time

  • TV shows and movies that show violence can scare a young child. They can also cause poor sleep, nightmares, and aggression.

  • Many movies, TV shows, music videos, and video games have violence and adult language or activities.

  • Preschoolers should spend no more than 1 hour a day with smart phones, tablets, TV, or other screens.

  • When your child is watching a video or using an app, do it with him. Talk with him about what he is seeing or doing.

Help Your Children Get Along

  • It is natural for children to argue. Give them a chance to work things out. Make sure no one gets hurt.

  • Children often compete for a parent’s love and attention. Try not to compare your children or favor one child over another.

  • Let your children know that they are each special and loved.

  • Try to spend some time alone with each child.

Prepare for Kindergarten

Children need many social skills to be ready for kindergarten. Help your child learn to wait, take turns, listen, share, make friends, and follow simple directions.

Set Reasonable Limits

  • Be consistent in what you expect.

  • Give simple, short reasons for saying “no.”

  • Make sure that your child is able to do what you ask. For example, most 4-year-olds can wait quietly, but not for very long.

  • Make it easy for your child to do the right thing, and harder to do the wrong thing. For example, if playing with your smart phone is not allowed, do not leave it where he can easily pick it up.

  • Tell your child clearly what you want him to do. “Remember to say please when you ask for a snack” is better than “Don’t be rude.”

  • Criticize the behavior, not the child. “Do not throw the ball in the house. You could break something” is better than “You are always bad!”

  • When your child is old enough, decide together what will happen if he breaks a rule. Make sure the penalty is reasonable. For example, you might take away a toy for a short while.


When Paul and Kay start to fight, their dad helps them solve their problems peacefully.

Whining, Interrupting, and Tantrums

Your child wants your attention, whether it’s positive or negative. He may whine, interrupt, or even have a tantrum to get your attention. You can try ignoring the behavior. This may help stop the behavior.

Do not ignore dangerous behavior. If your child is about to hurt himself or someone else, remove him from the situation.