My first two children were fairly easy to deal with, even as toddlers. They never had tantrums in public or screaming fits because the cup I gave them was blue and not green. Then number three came along and when she hit toddlerhood, my perfect little parenting world shattered. Her first tantrum took place in the middle in the grocery store because she wanted to walk and I made her ride in the cart. As her already high-pitched voice got louder and she starting kicking her legs furiously, I stood there in disbelief. My little girl went from mommy’s sweet angel to some type of vile creature in just seconds. After the second tantrum, I realized it was time to put strategies in place to deal with them.
Why Tantrums Occur
When dealing with a toddler, it is important to understand why they are prone to tantrums. Believe it or not, they don’t scream, stomp, and throw themselves down in public just to embarrass you. Toddlers are unable to regulate their emotions. This means when they are upset, angry, or frustrated, they can’t calm themselves down. At this age, language skills are also still developing and they struggle with expressing what they want, need, or feel. When they are unable to communicate effectively, they become frustrated which may lead to a tantrum.
A tantrum is not a pretty sight and when it happens in public, it can be downright embarrassing. When your child is screaming, kicking, pounding the floor, and maybe even throwing things, you may feel like having a meltdown yourself. However, there are things you can do to defuse the situation and save your sanity.
When your child is in the midst of throwing a tantrum, it is important for to stay calm. While this is not as easy as it sounds, remember that your child sees you as a role model and you should lead by example. Staying calm is also a vital part of effectively communicating with your child to let them know their behavior is unacceptable. If you find yourself becoming angry, you should walk away from the situation until you regain control over your emotions. Avoid yelling, screaming, or hitting the child, as this can make the situation worse.
Acknowledge Their Feelings
Even as adults, we can easily become frustrated if someone does not acknowledge our feelings. For toddlers, it can lead to a full-blown tantrum, especially since they are not able to express those feelings. Empathize with your child and let them know that you understand why they are upset. Acknowledging their feelings, regardless of how irrational they may seem, can teach them different feeling words while strengthening coping skills. Letting them express their emotions without the fear of judgment also helps them feel loved and supported. Remember, acknowledgment is not the same as condoning your child’s behavior or giving in, it is simply validating their feelings.
Refuse to Reason or Give In
When a child is the middle of a tantrum, reasoning with them is impossible. Tantrums revolve around emotions and your child is not going to compute what you are trying to say. Continuing to try to reason can also cause their circuits to overload and upset them even more.
When your child has screamed for 10 minutes straight, you might be tempted to give in just to get them to stop. This is never a good idea however, as giving in only teaches a child that they can use tantrums to get what they want.
Provide a Distraction
If you see that your child is upset or frustrated, trying diverting their attention before a tantrum occurs. Sing a silly song and encourage them to sing along or begin asking them the color of things. If the tantrum has already started, distracting them may prove more difficult, but it is possible. Try to get them interested in playing a game, or if you are in the grocery store, ask them to help you count the items in the cart. Since a toddler’s attention span is short, distracting them for even a few minutes will cause them to forget that they were upset.
Wait it Out
There is plenty of debate among experts on whether or not you should ignore a tantrum. For some children, ignoring the tantrum may be effective, especially if they are only trying to get attention. It can also teach them to self-soothe. With some children, however, ignoring them may have the opposite effect. Toddlers cannot fully calm themselves and if you ignore them, they may become frightened because they don’t know what to do without your help. Providing kind words and support will be more beneficial than ignoring them. If you do not like the idea of ignoring your child and the above tips are not effective, just wait it out. Stay in the same room to give them a sense of security, stay calm, and let them know they can connect with you when they are ready.
Tantrums are incredibly frustrating, but rest assured, it is normal for toddlers. With a little work and some trial and error, you can learn how to deal with them and maybe even prevent them from happening.