How to Use Humor to Diffuse a Toddler Temper Tantrum

Dealing with some difficult toddler behaviors?  Lisa Tanner, mom of 9, shares her very best tips for taming the infamous toddler temper tantrum. 


Sometimes, they’re so precious.

And other times they’re so exasperating they drive you crazy and make you want to pull your hair out.

Worst of all, they can flip a switch and move from sweet to howly in mere seconds.

Sometimes you don’t even see it coming and are blindsided by an unexpected toddler temper tantrum.

Graphic of toddler being held by mom with text "This is how to diffuse toddler tantrums- stress free tips from a mom of 9"

For someone so small, toddlers can sure make a lot of noise.

And while the classic toddler temper tantrum pose is on the ground kicking and screaming, most of my nine kids did the ostrich.

They’d flop over headfirst, like they were trying to bury their head in the ground.

Then they’d start to scream.

Just thinking about it makes me cringe.

The ear-piercing shrill is horrible!

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Rethinking our reactions to tantrums

Tantrums are one of the worst parts about parenting. And far too often, they bring out the worst in moms.

They sure did for me. Tantrums used to make me so mad.

I’d yell at the kids, demanding that they stop crying right this instant.

I’d threaten with all sorts of punishments I had no intention of actually following through with.

But none of this ever helped.

The tantrums just got worse. They’d last longer and happen more frequently.

It was awful.

And then one day, the Lord helped me to see that by responding in anger, I was merely having an adult version of a temper tantrum.

That realization got my attention. And I started praying that God would show me a better response.

It was then that I realized the power humor has in the face of a toddler temper tantrum.

If you can get your child to stop screaming and laugh, you’ve almost always successfully diffused the situation.

If you’re ready to try using humor to calm your tantruming toddler down, there’s a simple four step process.

  1. Check your own attitude
  2. Do something goofy
  3. Laugh and Hug
  4. Forgive your child

Try these with your one-year olds, two-year-olds and three’s at home and wherever tantrums strike!

Now, let’s dive deeper into each step. So the next time your toddler throws a fit, you will be prepared.  

1| Check Your Own Attitude

First things first.

You cannot successfully diffuse a temper tantrum if you’re on the verge of one yourself.

Breathe deeply for a moment and whisper a prayer for strength and patience.

Young mom sitting on couch with eyes closed, praying.

Remind yourself that your child is still little and learning to deal with all these feelings.

Remember that children are a blessing, even when they’re kicking their feet and screaming until they’re red in the face.

Tell yourself that you can do this.

When you feel more in control of your attitude, it’s time to move onto the next step.

2| Do Something Goofy

Yes, goofy.

You want whatever you do to be so wildly off-the-wall and out of character that it immediately captures your child’s attention.

Need some ideas? Here are several to get you started.

You’ll notice that some are better equipped for public spaces –

– while some are better for inside your own home where you don’t have to worry about other people watching you!

Mom lying on pillows with her two little girls, all making silly faces.

The Crazy Voice

Talk in a crazy voice and say things like, “Look at that!” while you point to something in the opposite direction.

Or “I wonder if I can lick my elbow…”

You’re going for random, whatever comes to mind kind of sentences.

Nothing scripted. Just go for it.  

And seriously, make your voice crazy. Do a combination of nasally congested and high-pitched.

Or go super low and almost growl the words out (in a joking way, not scary enough to make your child think you’re ready to kill them…)

If one voice isn’t getting a response, try another.

Maybe try imitating your child’s favorite character or something.

Read Next: The Potty Training Hack that Finally Worked

The Quiet Button

Walk over to your child and say, “I wonder what this button does?” as you gently use one finger to push their shoulder.

You want a motion like you’re literally pushing a button.

Mom holding toddler son. Concept of diffusing one year old, two year old, three year old tantrums

Next, narrate their reaction.

Say something like, “Wow, that one made them scream louder, definitely not going to push the shoulder button again.”

Then try a different button. Maybe on their kneecap?

You can say things like: “I think this arm button lowered the volume, let me try it again and see for sure.”

Then continue pushing that same spot, very gently.

Keep trying different “buttons” until you find the one that stops the tantrum.

You can say things like, “I know the right button is around here somewhere” as they begin to calm.

Crying Contest

See if you can out cry your toddler. Get into character and totally mimic them.

Except make sure you do the toddler temper tantrum routine even better.

You got this, momma. Kick those legs, flail those arms, and scream your head off.

Once your child looks at you, say, “It’s your turn again.”

Then let them cry for a moment. Now it’s time to take back over. You can say, “Mommy’s turn.”

And then cry some more.

Continue until your child is done.

Mom holding toddler girl, spinning her around outside, acting silly together.

The Tricks

What tricks can you do? Now is the time to pull them out.

You can try:

  • Jumping up and tapping your heels together three times
  • Juggling
  • Twirling like a ballerina
  • Squat walking
  • High knee walking
  • Balancing a ruler on your outstretched hand (keep your eyes on the top of it)
  • Making animal noises
  • Stand on your head

The zanier the trick the better. Once you have your child’s attention, ask them if they can do it.

Using humor to stop toddler tantrums

Sing a Silly Song

Silly songs are so catchy, they’re hard to ignore. Start belting out one of these:

  • Down by the Bay
  • Mama’s Soup Surprise
  • The Other Day I Met a Bear
  • Flea Fly
  • On Top of Spaghetti
  • I’m Being Eaten by a Boa Constrictor
  • There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

Think of any weird songs you learned in elementary school. They probably fall into this category.

If you can’t think of anything else, start singing The Song That Never Ends.

Just sing.

If you don’t know any silly songs, take time now to learn them.

Then you’ll have a few to cycle through the next time a tantrum strikes.

Create a Game

Look around you and see what you can use to create a quick, fun game.

You want it to be something that your child would want to join in on.

Mom spinning around living room with daughter, playing a game.

You can try:

  • Grabbing three random (non-breakable) objects and trying to stack them up
  • Trying to balance something on your head
  • Seeing how far you can slide your shoe across the floor
  • Seeing if you can slide in socks across your wood floor
  • Singing your ABCs in one breath
  • Singing the ABCs backwards
  • Stack up a couple of pillows or couch cushions and try to balance on them

Let the objects around you serve as inspiration for this.

Then, ask your child if they want a turn. Often, they will.

Also read: 40+ Indoor Activities for Kids of all ages

3| Laugh and Hug

You just did something crazy, nice job.

But you’re not done yet.

If your first choice is ineffective, pick another.

management of temper tantrum

Once you have your child’s attention, continue what you were doing for a few moments. Then start laughing.

Often, your child will join right in.

Laughter is good for you both. Give a big ol’ belly laugh and be thankful that the tantrum is over.

Then embrace your child in a big bear hug. Let them know that you love them.

And now it’s time for the most important step in this whole process.

4| Forgive Your Child

You shouldn’t hold a grudge against your toddler for having a tantrum.

But I used to.  

I’d be so upset by the whole situation that I blamed my child for making me mad.

Then I’d continue to be mad and nitpick every little thing they did the rest of the day.

It was awful for us both.

Thankfully, the Lord helped me to see that forgiveness applies to toddlers, too –

– even though they aren’t old enough to grasp saying they’re sorry.

And…that I was giving a toddler way too much power over me if they could make me that mad.

I had to own up to my responsibility to respond with grace.

So take a cue from Elsa, and let it go.

Mom and two little kids in living room with popcorn, having fun together.

Don’t dwell on the tantrum. Don’t continue to punish your child for it hours after it’s over.

You’ll just make yourself even more miserable.

Grace and forgiveness…

That’s what God extends to us. And it’s what we need to dish out to our toddlers.

Even when they’re screaming like banshees and driving us crazy.

Just keep loving them and letting things go.

Repeat the Steps as Needed

Most parents get the chance to repeat the four steps often.

Sometimes even multiple times in a single day. Working with toddlers isn’t for the faint of heart.

But my hope is that you can use humor the next time a tantrum breaks out and successfully calm your child down.

You may even be able to sense one coming and be able to use humor to stop a tantrum before one starts.

That feels amazing.  

If you start to feel weary, remind yourself that your toddler will eventually learn more effective strategies for dealing with disappointment, anger, and all those other big feelings.

And in the meantime, use humor to help you both survive these challenging years.

Lisa Tanner author profile

Lisa Tanner loves helping busy moms calm the chaos and find time to start or grow a home business.

As a freelance writer, virtual assistant, and homeschooling mom of nine, she’s well-versed in the art of balancing diapers and deadlines.

You can find Lisa on her blog, Pinterest, or Instagram.

Vertical graphic with mom holding crying toddler and text "The #1 Way to Stop tantrums- and have a happier toddler."

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