Given my experience working with young children, I am no stranger to tantrums. I understand that tantrums are largely a result of a child’s developing sense of self as an individual, separate from others in the world world. Couple this with a desire for independence and difficulty expressing their intentions, feelings and emotions, and toddler tantrums emerge. Basically, toddler tantrums result from frustration at an inability to make themselves understood and getting their needs met… NOW!
As much as I know this stuff, as the parent of the toddler experimenting with this developing sense of self and independence, I find myself needing to step back and take a deep breath as I remind myself that there are a range of effective, (predominately) proactive strategies for dealing with toddler tantrums. Here’s some of the ones that work best for us…
Strategy #1. I believe the most effective strategy is actually making the effort to avoid the potential for tantrums in the first place.
Young children need routine, rest, food and your attention. If any of these four things is out of balance, you immediately increase the likelihood of a tantrum. It can be helpful to stick to routine sleep/nap times and meal and snack times. I know that I am an incredible grouch when I am over tired or when my blood sugar drops as I haven’t eaten.
Toddlers learn through their interactions with others. As their parent, they need you the most. Often, tantrums are a toddler’s way of seeking your attention. This doesn’t mean that you have to drop what you are doing and spend all day on the floor playing but you do need to think about how much of your time and attention they are actually getting on any given day. Make it easy on yourself by involving them in what you are doing. Toddlers love chores and can help to put away washing or groceries, help to prepare meals, or even wash a few (plastic!) dishes.
It can also help to be flexible with your daily routine wherever possible. If your child is having a bad morning as they are tired or unwell, try to avoid places and tasks that require a lot of them. For example, grocery shopping is not much fun with a grumpy toddler in tow.
Strategy #2. Giving warnings about upcoming transitions.
Whenever you need to move from one place to another or from one activity to another, give your toddler a warning that this ‘transition’ is approaching.
“Immy, in five minutes we need to leave the park and go home to make dinner. Let’s have one more go on the slide.”
“Mummy will play with you for two more minutes and then she needs to hang out the washing. Shall we build one more tower?”
“We need to get dressed so that we can go to the shops.”
Toddlers do not understand how long five minutes actually is but this time of warning (and/or explanation) gives them time to mentally (and physically) finish what they are doing and prepare for the next thing to come.
Strategy #3. Make a conscious effort to provide your toddler with meaningful, simple choices or alternatives.
I have talked about this strategy previously. Providing your toddler with a simple choice makes them feel empowered as a decision maker and can help to avoid a tantrum erupting.
Offering an alternative can also help when a mini tantrum or whine begins, “No, you cannot have a biscuit, would you like some grapes.” By saying this, you are not giving in to their whinging for a biscuit but you are providing them with the opportunity to exercise choice.
Also consider how often you are saying ‘no’ to your toddler. If you are constantly saying no, try using some of the other preventative strategies like choice and transition warnings to help you build more positive interactions and opportunities a sense of empowerment for your toddler.
Strategy #4. Diversion and Distraction
Toddlers have short attention spans and are often easy to distract. If you child is whinging at you to have or do something or is on the verge of a tantrum, try distracting them and diverting their attention away from the situation which is causing the problem. This can stop a minor incident from escalating into a major tantrum. For example, “Oh look, I think the mailman has been, shall we go and check the mail?” The few minutes it takes to go and check the mail breaks the tension of the situation and hopefully they will forget all about whatever it was they were complaining about.
Strategy #5. Stay strong.
To avoid reinforcing negative behaviour, try not to give in to your toddler’s demands, instead trying alternative strategies in the effort to find an acceptable (to you) solution that also provides room for your toddler’s developing sense of independence.
Strategy #6. Dealing with major tantrums.
Sometimes preventative strategies don’t work and a major yelling, stomping, hitting, thrashing tantrum takes place. Here are a few survival tips for making it out the other side when it seems like your child has been invaded by an alien body snatcher…
- Don’t take it personally. Your young child is exhibiting an immature emotional response which is completely appropriate to their age and stage of development.
- Don’t try and reason with your child when they are in the throes of a major tantrum. Wait for it to pass and for them to calm down. They cannot listen to reason when they are very upset.
- Make sure they are safe. Stay close. Wait it out.
- If you think you are going to lose your temper and act inappropriately, make sure they are safe and then step away for a moment or two to compose yourself. You getting angry is not going to help calm them down.
- Once they have calmed down, help them to resettle. A hug works wonders. Or engage them in a quiet activity. Let them know that it is okay.
If parenting teaches us anything, it is that when it comes to children everything is constantly changing. Although it is hard to remember when you are dealing with frequent tantrums in the middle of this difficult developmental stage, try to tell yourself, “I know this too shall pass!”
Do you have strategies that you use to help cope with toddler tantrums at your place?