Tantrums In 4 Year Olds: The Advice You Wish You Knew Sooner

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 09/14/22 •  11 min read  •  Preschool » Preschooler Boundaries

Tantrums in 4 year olds can be very stressful for parents…

How does a child manage to produce such a loud continuous scream?!

Surely tantrums shouldn’t be happening at this age?

But some kids just LOVE to kick, wail and cry! (Right in the middle of a shopping aisle too…)

So why do tantrums in 4 year olds happen and how can we try and stop these 4 year old tantrums from happening again?

What Is A Tantrum?

Are Tantrums In 4 Year Olds Normal?

Yes, tantrums in 4 year olds are a normal part of your child’s development

They happen as your child learns to become more independent and typically occur between the ages of 1 and 4.

This said… children of all ages are capable of having a tantrum and if tantrum-like behaviour is not handled properly, then they can continue way beyond the toddler phase.

How Do I Handle My 4 Year Old’s Tantrums?

Dealing with tantrums in 4 year olds is never easy, especially when they happen in public. 

But being prepared and having a list of strategies to deal with tantrums in 4 year olds is your best plan to get through them safely and effectively.

6 Steps For Handling 4 Year Old Tantrums Anywhere

1. Stay calm no matter what. This is the hardest part of handling tantrums in 4 year olds. But taking a deep breath and staying calm is key to preventing a tantrum from escalating.

2. Acknowledge their frustration and anger. Tantrums usually occur when your little one feels ignored, unheard or misunderstood. So acknowledge their anger or frustration with minimal words.

3. Talk in a slow low voice or not at all. Use as few words as possible. 4 year olds are looking for you to lose your temper and give them a reaction. Sometimes it is best not to say anything until the tantrum has passed.

4. Move your child to a safe place if possible. If you can, move to a safe place where your child cannot hurt themselves, you or anyone and anything else.

5. Remove the audience if possible. It can feel very embarrassing to have your child throw a tantrum in public so if possible, remove them from an audience. This allows you to concentrate on them without worrying about what others are thinking and very often, without an audience your little one’s tantrum will lose momentum.

6. Wait it out and chat about their feelings afterwards. You cannot force a tantrum to come to an end. Nor can you expect your toddler to listen to you in the middle of a tantrum. Therefore, wait it out and sit down and have a chat about what happened afterwards. Talk about why it happened and help your 4 year old understand that there are more acceptable ways to express their feelings next time.

7. Don’t give in. And I mean NEVER give in to a tantrum. Even if part way through you feel you may have denied them something that they could have had or done…Once you have said ‘no’ you must see it through. If you give in to a tantrum you reinforce that this behaviour gets results.

How To Prevent 4 Year Old Tantrums From Happening

Prevention is always better than reaction.

And having some tricks up your sleeve to prevent tantrums in 4 year olds from happening in the first place is hugely beneficial for the whole family.

9 Way To Prevent 4 Year Old Tantrums From Happening

1. Create a calm-down corner. Having a safe space where your 4 year old can go when they feel things are getting too much can be hugely beneficial to help them reset their emotions. A canvas tent, cushions and s few cuddly toys is great place to start.

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2. Practice teddy bear breathing. This is a fun way to get your little one to practice deep breathing. Balance a teddy bear on their tummy and give it a ride with the rising and falling of your child’s breath. It is a great idea to make this part of the bedtime routine when they are lying down in bed.

3. Utilise emotional development toys, books and flashcards. These are excellent ways to get your little one to talk about their emotions in a healthy way. They will give you an insight into how your child is feeling and will give them the essential verbal tools to express themselves in a healthy way.

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4. Lead by example by modelling good listening. Leading by example and listening to your child first will go a long way in avoiding unnecessary tantrums in 4 year olds.

5. Talk openly about emotions and feelings. If you talk openly about your feelings your child is more likely to do the same. It is important for them to realise that feeling angry, sad and frustrated is normal but that there are ways to process these emotions without having a tantrum.

6. Praise your child when they manage their emotions properly. When your child successfully processes or navigates a situation that could have resulted in a tantrum ensure that you give them plenty of praise and encouragement. Reinforcing a good outcome will definitely help to reduce tantrums moving forward.

7. Maintain a happy and positive family atmosphere. 4 year olds are very sensitive to their environment and the happier and calmer their surroundings are… the fewer tantrums they will have.

8. Ensure your child has a healthy age-appropriate sleep schedule and regular bedtime routine. Sleep and emotional behaviour go hand-in-hand. Help your child to maintain a consistent sleep schedule and bedtime to limit the possibility of overtiredness causing any tantrums.

9. Give your child the words to express their feelings. Very often tantrums are a result of your child’s inability to vocalise how they are feeling. Make sure there are plenty of opportunities for your 4 year old to talk about their emotions and give them the words to express themselves.

What Is The Difference Between A Tantrum And A Meltdown?

The main difference between tantrums in 4 year olds and meltdowns is that:

Therefore, during a tantrum, your child will still have some element of control over their behaviour and the tantrum will usually end once they have got what they want.

But with an emotional meltdown, your child will struggle to calm down and will only do so once they have been removed from the situation that caused the meltdown in the first place. 

However, some tantrums can turn into meltdowns if they go on for a long time…

Characteristics Of A Tantrum:

Characteristics Of A Meltdown:

TOP TIP: If you suspect that your 4 year old is experiencing meltdowns instead of tantrums, click here to get specific advice on how to handle emotional meltdowns in young children.

When To Seek Help For Tantrums In 4 Year Old

In some cases, tantrums in 4 year olds can be an indication of an underlying condition linked to the child not being able to process emotions effectively. 

If you notice any of the following signs, then I would advise having a chat with a medical professional to see if an emotional assessment would be useful:

Frequently Asked Questions About Tantrums In 4 Year Olds

Need more advice about tantrums in 4 year olds? Get the answers to the most common questions here:

Is It Normal For A 4 Year Old To Be Emotional?

Yes, it is normal for a 4 year old to be emotional. 

This is because there is a huge amount going on emotionally in your 4 year old’s development.

They are starting to learn about other people’s feelings and have a strong desire to please and be seen as good and kind.

Your 4 year old will also start to form friendships and learn the whole range of emotions that go with this. 

In addition, they will be developing their imagination and with so much going on you can expect your 4 year old to have emotional outbursts as they try to process all these new feelings.

How Can I Stop 4 Year Old Tantrums And Hitting?

If your 4 year old is hitting out when they have a tantrum you need to take swift action and address the issue.

TOP TIP: If your 4 year old persists with violent tantrums you should seek medical advice as an emotional assessment may be necessary to rule out any underlying conditions that may be contributing to their behaviour.

When Should I Worry About My 4 Year Old Tantrums?

In some cases, tantrums in 4 year olds can be an indication of an underlying condition linked to your child being unable to process emotions effectively.

If you spot any of the following signs in your child’s behaviour you should seek professional advice to see if an emotional assessment would be beneficial:

Why Does My 4 Year Old Keep Having Tantrums Every Day?

Your 4 year old may keep having tantrums every day because they are:

While these are the most common triggers if your little one suddenly starts throwing more tantrums than normal… they may be feeling insecure about a recent change in their life such as starting nursery, moving house or the arrival of a new sibling. 

What Do You Do When You 4 Year Old Screams At You?

Firstly, don’t ever scream back or verbally discipline your toddler right now. 

Not responding to your child’s screams is your best defence. 

They are screaming at you to get a reaction so the most powerful weapon you have is not to overreact.

Keep your voice calm and refuse to talk about the issue until they bring down the volume and use their ‘quiet’ voice.

Encourage them to come and sit in the calm-down corner where you can help them express their feelings in an acceptable manner.

It is important that you take this time once the screaming has stopped to reinforce that they will have your attention if they speak and behave respectfully.

REMEMBER: Your 4 year old is learning a lot about feelings and you need to spend time helping them process these feelings in a regulated manner.

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Paula McLaren

Paul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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