Distress Tantrums or Nero Tantrums: How to Tell Them Apart and Raise Emotionally Stable Toddlers

6 mins read

The toddler years are marked by many unexpected and often unpleasant changes, such as temper tantrums and meltdowns. That’s why these years are also called “terrible twos” (or threes). Parenting with grace can help parents cope with this difficult and tricky phase.

With time and experience, parents may realize that temper tantrum can differ in nature and intensity. Parenting with love and limits helps parents recognize those differences and address them correctly. Specifically, parents should distinguish between two distinct types of temper tantrums.

Distress Tantrums

Distress Tantrums or Nero Tantrums Toddlers
Distress Tantrum

Distress tantrums encompass a variety of emotions, such as rage, agony, and extreme anxiety, all at once. They often include incessant and prolonged crying. Stress hormones can overwhelm toddlers, making them uncontrollable and inconsolable.

Temper tantrum anger and distress were related to emotional reactivity and emotional competence. —Researchers at the University of Victoria, Canada

Dealing with distress tantrums can be very stressful for parents too. It requires a lot of patience and parenting with grace.

Nero Tantrum

Nero tantrums are mini versions of full-fledged tantrums. They are characterized by emotions like anger and crankiness, and toddlers tend to sob, roll on the ground, or make other such displays of emotion.

Nero Tantrum
Nero Tantrum

As research points out, “the duration of the average young child’s temper tantrum is brief by adult standards, from about two to fifteen minutes.”

A Nero tantrum is very irritating and emotionally draining. However, with a bit of tact, parenting with love and limits, and a lot of patience and reinforcement, parents can handle it. A Nero tantrum is a child’s way of dealing with the emotional demands of the parents. The child recognizes that crying and yelling irritates the parents and manipulates their emotions. A child may behave this way either to get back a favorite toy or to get out of an unpleasant routine.

How to Deal with Nero Tantrums

Parents need to teach their toddler that tantrums are not okay and that tantrums won’t produce the result the toddler wants. Parents then have to teach their children what kind of behavior is acceptable and how to achieve the desired results. This is a gradual process that parents and children learn together little by little through positive reinforcement and patience.

Here are some ways to deal with Nero tantrums:

  • Reason with your child. Nero tantrums are very annoying, but responding with annoyance, anger, and shouting only makes the situation worse. Parents need to reason with their child and say why they cannot fulfill the child’s particular demand. For instance, parents should make statements like “You cannot have ice cream because you are ill,” or “You cannot go to the park because it’s raining.” A child may not fully understand what you are saying, but still, the child can guess what you are trying to say from the tone of the parent’s voice. Over time, the child should start complying.
  • Stand your ground. A Nero tantrum is a way for a child to try and assert control. Hold your ground and don’t give in to your toddler’s whim just to make the tantrum end. Doing so only allows the toddler to establish a pattern of control over the parents. Be polite but firm to help the toddler learn that tantrums won’t get the toddler what he or she wants. Through parenting with grace, parents can hopefully avoid turning the situation into a battle of wills.
  • Ignore the tantrum (parenting with love and limits). While parents should never ignore distress tantrums, managing a Nero tantrum requires a bit of tact on the parents’ part. Parents need to give their child and themselves a bit of space. This will prevent the parents from losing their tempers or from giving in to the child’s demands. It will also give the child some time to settle down.
  • Use positive reinforcement. A toddler needs to have a clear idea of what yield results and what doesn’t. While parents shouldn’t indulge their child’s whims and fancies, they should praise even the smallest hints of positive behavior. Parents can even validate good behavior through small rewards like stickers or sweets.

When Nero tantrums are allowed to go unchecked, they eventually lead to manipulative, bullying, controlling, and menacing behavior that a child continues to practice throughout his or her life, even as an adult.  Therefore, parenting with love and limits is very important.

Dealing Distress Tantrums or Nero Tantrums
Dealing with a Toddler’s Bad Temper


  • Giesbrecht, Gerald F., Michael R. Miller, and Ulrich Müller. “The Anger–Distress Model of Temper Tantrums: Associations with Emotional Reactivity and Emotional Competence.” Infant and Child Development 19, no. 5 (2010): 478–497. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com
  • Proffer, Andrew A. “Temper Tantrums: A Developmental Perspective from a Clinical Psychologist.” Day Care and Early Education 22, no. 3 (1995): 16–19. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest from Blog