We hear it start — the crying, whining, and stomping. The feeling of dread and helplessness sets in. Dealing with toddler tantrums is stressful, confusing, overwhelming, and downright frustrating. Instead of letting frustration get the better of you, here a few tips that may offer a bit of relief for the next time a tantrum hits, or perhaps to help you avoid one in the first place.
At the outset, it is essential to understand one thing — tantrums are a normal part of a child’s development. If you ever feel the tantrums are too frequent, it’s always best to check with a doctor in case something more serious is causing your little one discomfort. Also, if you ever feel overwhelmed by your child’s tantrums, take a break and call someone to help you when possible.
Don’t Forget to Breathe
First, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you can handle this, and can and will work through it. You must stay calm so you can respond to your child’s tantrum objectively. You don’t want to yell or react to the behavior; that will only make the situation worse. Also remember that there is no reasoning with a toddler who is having a tantrum, and comforting them with hugs and kisses won’t work initially.
Understanding the Causes of a Toddler Tantrum
It is so important to understand why the tantrum is happening. There is a reason your toddler is behaving that way. You’ll know that the behavior is for attention only, if, for example, while on a phone call you tell your child to hold on for a minute, and then the behavior occurs. In cases like this, the reason is likely the need for attention.
In this case, it’s often best to ignore the behavior and wait till the child is calm before you engage.
If the child is hungry or tired, meet their needs, but wait until they are calm, and say things like, “Great calming down,” or “I love how you have expressed yourself.” Then address the behavior.
What Does a Typical Toddler Tantrum Look Like?
This morning, I asked my toddler to put on her shoes so we could go out. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, my daughter threw herself onto the floor and started screaming. When I approached her, she got up, took off like a lightning bolt, running away, saying “No, I want to play more!”
How do you handle that madness? First, take a deep breath and say, “I can work through this.” Next, wait. Let the child calm down. Make sure you:
- Ignore the crying.
- Don’t talk to your child or repeat instructions.
- Just wait a few minutes, and let the child calm down.
Finally, once the child is calm, reinforce your instruction by telling her: “I love how you have a quiet voice right now. Let’s put your shoes on.” You can use hand over hand to assist your child with putting on her shoes. Reinforce the goal and move on. Don’t harp on the situation or scold the child because the tantrum happened.
Also, don’t talk about the situation in front of your child; don’t make her to feel like the attention she got from you is harsh or negative.
Know the Tantrums Triggers
There are a few ways you can avoid a tantrum, especially if you know the triggers.
In some cases, if you can anticipate a tantrum, you can prepare your child in advance. For example, you can say, “In five minutes we are going to leave for school,” or “When the timer goes off, you will need to put your shoes on.”
When possible and appropriate, I also love to give my daughter a choice in the matter. I allow her to make decisions so that she feels that she has some control over the matter. Giving your children a choice is a great way to help avoid a tantrum. In reality, you as the parent are the one in control, since you are the one giving the options, but it gives children the feeling that their thoughts matter. And their thoughts do matter. Looking back on my daughter’s tantrum over putting her shoes on, I probably could have avoided a tantrum in the first place if I had given her a choice: “Do you want your grey sneakers or your blue ones?” That strategy would have mitigated in her mind the sense of demand, instead focusing her attention on the choice at hand.
It is essential not to give in to tantrums. Yielding to tantrums only increases their likelihood. Once your child knows that you are likely to give in, she will, for example, lay on the floor kicking and screaming for a piece of chocolate until you give her one, or throw an outburst until you submit to letting her wear summer sandals. I know being resolute with a child throwing a temper tantrum is especially difficult in public situations, but it’s important to hold your ground.
Yet, never forget that toddlers are developing little humans and are still learning how to manage their big emotions. You are the beacon and grounding point for both teaching and showing your children how to manage their emotions.
Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself. Parenting can be a challenge, and each child comes with her own unique learning curve.
Allow yourself to breathe, and never forget – you got this, momma!
Lisa has a Ph.D. and two Master’s Degrees from Columbia University in Applied Behavior Analysis and her dissertation on Observational Learning has been published in the Library of Congress. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst who specializes in developing and implementing personalized behavior assessments to children and creating therapy programs to be used in both home and school settings. Lisa has worked with children for over 10 years in both the school and home environment to increase their development. She also works with parents to support and help establish a positive home environment. As a mom herself, Lisa loves working with other parents, answering their questions, and helping them feel confident and supported in their choices and actions. Follow @nybehaviortherapy on Instagram for more helpful tips!
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