Is your little one throwing tantrums? Learn how to prevent the toddler tantrums in the first place and how to deal with them once they occur.
I stared at my watch. It was past 6 p.m., an hour and a half after I got home from picking up my son from school. During that hour and a half, he demanded that I turn around and bring him back to school. During that hour and a half, he had a meltdown of epic proportions.
He would not get out of the car. He would not listen and kept screaming and crying. A few of our neighbors stuck their heads out the door to see what was happening, and a couple even offered to come help.
It seemed like every time I tried to touch him or talk to him he would get more upset, so I decided to leave him alone. I opened the windows a little, closed the car door and let him yell it out while I watched from the garage to make sure he didn’t open the door and run out into the street.
Almost 2 hours later, he seemed to have quieted down a little, so I opened the car door, gave him a hug, and asked if he wanted to come into the house now. He nodded, still sobbing, and I was able to pick him up and bring him into the house to console him.
“Love is a Battlefield.” Yes, that is true. But you know what else is like a battlefield? Being a mother of a toddler. Dealing with toddler tantrums is like defusing a bomb. You make the wrong choice, and the tantrum explodes into a full-blown meltdown, where the toddler has completely lost control of his/her emotions and ability to reason.
The good news is that many tantrums are avoidable, and you just have to watch out for the triggers that set off the bomb in the first place. The bad news is that you have a toddler, and tantrums are going to happen, no matter how careful you are.
Prevention, Prevention, Prevention.
After surviving the terrible two’s, you sort of develop some kind of spider-sense. Most of the time, I can sense the tantrum coming, and instead of preparing to fight it head-on, I play defense and look for ways to prevent it instead.
1. Make sure they are not tired.
My son is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde depending on if he got enough rest that day. If he had a bad night or skipped a much-needed nap, I know I need to watch out for incoming tantrums. I give him a little more slack than usual and do everything possible to get him to bed as soon as possible. If he doesn’t finish all his dinner or clean up all his toys, just let it go and move on… Sometimes, you have to lose the battle to win the war.
2. Avoid trigger words.
“Silence is golden,” a phrase that may save you from many tantrums. It’s like playing chess – always think hard before you let any words leave your mouth and think always 3 steps ahead about how your toddler will react before you speak.
For example, if I want Alex to finish dinner, I avoid mentioning any other food items until he is done. If I say, “When you finish we can eat fruits,” I know right away he will demand fruits because, you know, how dare mommy tells him what to do.
3. Set expectations.
I find that if you set expectations ahead of time, my son gets less upset than when he is caught off-guard. For example, when he finishes eating his much-loved fruit strips and realizes that I don’t have another one, he reacts like I just threw his favorite toy in the garbage. Therefore, before I even give him a fruit strip, I tell him that mommy only brought one so he should eat it slowly and savor it because there is no more after this one. He nods to indicate that he understands and just hands me the wrapper after he is done.
4. Remove trigger objects.
If you don’t want him to have the scissors, why leave them around where he can see them? And what’s with a toddler’s obsession with sharp objects anyway? Remove all items that he cannot have – and therefore he must not get his hands on – from the room. I cannot count the number of times my husband creates a diversion while I throw the trigger object into a drawer or a closet. Out of sight, out of mind!
5. Distract from the issue at hand.
Once the tantrum starts, it’s difficult to create a distraction because all of the toddler’s focus is on crying as loud and hard as possible. Therefore, distract the toddler beforehand to avoid the tantrum.
For example, your toddler sees a pair of scissors on the table and you can tell he is about to reach for it. Throw his attention off the scissors with another toy or another task (“oh my goodness look at how dirty your hands are, let’s go wash your hands!”). Hide the scissors when he is distracted so that when he does turn his attention back to the table, the scissors are no longer there.
6. Curb the hunger.
Your toddler may be acting out because he/she is hungry but doesn’t know how to communicate it. If your toddler seems to be on the edge of a tantrum, offer some healthy snacks to make sure that their tummies are happy. Even if he/she is not hungry, sometimes the snack will serve as a distraction and calm him/her down.
7. Be patient.
I find that sometimes, I am the one causing the tantrums by going head to head with a stubborn toddler because I am too impatient to deal with my whiny son any other way. However, if I stay calm and try and convince him to do what I want by calmly asking him or offering him some incentive, he actually listens.
Related Post: How to Discipline Your Strong-Willed Child
How to Handle Toddler Tantrums
Okay, you did your best to prevent toddler tantrums, but one erupted anyway. What’s the plan to control the damage and cease the tantrum as soon as possible?
1. Stay calm.
You know how your emotions get all wacky when menstruating and you get angry over the smallest things? Remember how you almost ripped your husband’s head off for saying you forgot to pick up dry-cleaning?
Well, that’s how toddlers feel when they feel angry and stress hormones overwhelm their body and intensify their emotions. Therefore, they look to you, parental unit, for support. If you start throwing a tantrum of your own, the rock they have been depending on is no longer there, and consequently, their tantrums escalate.
So, stay calm and speak in a composed voice at all times. If you feel like yelling, go to your bedroom and scream into a pillow or take a deep breath and count to 10 in your head – just don’t let your toddler see that you feel like losing it.
2. Time-In or Time-Out.
Not every battle can be won by using the same strategy. Sometimes, what your toddler needs is hugs, cuddles, and kisses to tame the furious beast. In that case, sit in a quiet corner with your toddler and provide as much comfort as much as possible.
Other times, the best is to leave your toddler alone and let him/her let off steam – just make sure that he/she is in a safe environment. My son has kicked me out of the time-out room before because he just felt like being alone, and after 2 minutes of screaming and flailing, he slowly calmed down and came out of the room like a whole new person. So, step back, assess the situation, and decide whether a time-in or a time-out is the answer.
3. Hold back the urge to reason.
When the tantrum is in full effect, it’s better to hold back and not engage. Since we are adults, we want to talk things through and understand why they are so angry in the first place. However, toddlers cannot reason during a tantrum and therefore trying to do so may make matters worse. Focus on calming them down before talking it over.
4. Look, a truck!
Distractions also work to break the tantrum. My favorite day of the week is Thursday because I know somewhere in between getting my son from school and bedtime, a garbage truck is coming. In that time frame, if a tantrum happens, I know that if I cannot calm him down, the garbage truck will.
Just make sure you don’t reward your toddler for throwing a tantrum by giving him a new toy or a sweet treat as a distraction. Also, after the tantrum has subsided and distraction gone, make sure to round back and talk about what happened.
5. Be sympathetic.
Sometimes, toddlers throw a tantrum because they feel like their emotions are not acknowledged. Some things, like flushing the toilet, is an afterthought to us, but a huge deal to them. So instead of dismissing their emotions by saying, “You shouldn’t be angry over something so small,” say something like “I am sorry you are upset” instead.
6. Hug it out.
Think back to the last time you had a massage. Remember how relaxed and calm you felt afterward? While I am not saying giving your toddler a massage during a tantrum is a good idea, a big hug or tight squeeze might do the trick. Your child may be throwing a tantrum due to sensory overload, and providing pressure on the body may help calm their nervous system. Plus, a good squeeze not only grounds you child but also restores calmness for you as well.
One Tantrum Down, Many More to Go
Now that you have managed to calm your toddler down, remember to always make the tantrum a teaching moment. Snuggle up with your toddler and recap what had just happened as if you are telling a story. Capture the events that led up to the tantrum and the emotions your toddler felt during the tantrum. Maybe the next time the same thing happens your toddler will have learned how to react properly instead of throwing a tantrum.
Life with a toddler is a battlefield. You win some, you lose some. Take the time to observe your toddler so that you can see a tantrum coming from far away. Even though it feels like walking through a minefield at times, you should be able to prevent tantrums from happening. And even if a tantrum does transpire, breathe, stay calm, and remember that your toddler depends on you to help calm him/her down. Toddlers are learning how to control their emotions with these tantrums, and before you know it, they will be all grown-up and we will be the ones that need them for emotional support!
How do you deal with toddler tantrums?