Temper Tantrums: Tips for Dealing with Hitting and Scratching

Tips for Dealing with Hitting and Scratching


My 18-month-old kicks and screams when she wants something. How do I combat this? I also noticed yesterday she was scratching and hitting.


Tantrums are a normal and, I would argue, even healthy part of a young child’s world. Tantrums are those moments when the container for your child’s big emotions overflows, resulting in an emotional flood. At the moment, their emotional container overflows they are experiencing in their bodies, urges and sensations that overwhelm their ability to understand and regulate their emotions. In an 18-month-old a big part of why they have a hard time regulating their emotions is because the emotional regulation areas of their brain aren’t built (wired or connected) yet.

Tantrums are both Neurological and biological states of dysregulation.  They aren’t willful acts of defiance and disobedience. Tantrums are triggered by wanting something and being told no; you can’t have it.  Underneath that emotional flood, a child has been building up the sensations in their body of disappointment, frustration, anger, jealousy, and sadness.

Their emotional container was nearly full before you said no. If they are hungry or tired, it is way more likely that the container will overflow in a flood of emotions. Some of the latest neuroscience research tells us that a flood of emotions may sometimes be felt as physical pain in your child’s body.  

When you visualize your daughter’s tantrums this way, it may help you see them as a healthy release of emotions that overwhelmed her and not as manipulation, annoyance, or ridiculous overreactions.

Should you just let your child hit, scratch, or kick you? Absolutely not!
You can always let her express her emotions by crying, sobbing, or screaming while holding a boundary around unsafe behavior like hitting, kicking, biting, or scratching.

Hold a boundary for unsafe behavior and tell your daughter you can cry and be sad or angry, but I won’t let you hit.