Dealing With Toddler Tantrums
Keep in Mind Tantrums Are Necessary
Have you ever found yourself in the middle of the grocery store with your two-year-old throwing a fit to end all fits and feel like every pair of eyes is staring at you? All the while, you have no idea what to do and you're so embarrassed you could scream.
Guess what? It has happened to every parent at one time or another. Tantrums are a natural part of the growing up process. Kids, like adults, are filled with emotions, but unlike adults, toddlers have yet to master the skills necessary to effectively deal with these emotions. Tantrums are a result of these negative emotions boiling over and an outward expression of the inner conflict going on inside the child. So, although tantrums are embarrassing and frustrating for us as parents, they are also a necessary evil to allow kids to grow, mature, and learn to effectively deal with their feelings. The question is: how do you effectively deal with these outbursts? Unfortunately, there is no textbook sure-fire answer that works for every child every time. However, there are some things you can try to help you and your toddler through this trying phase.
The first thing to remember is to remain calm; getting upset or angry is counterproductive. It’s impossible to teach your child to take control of and deal with their own emotions while you're losing control of yours. When you start feeling upset, take a deep breath and count to ten, or step away from your child if it’s safe to do so. Remember, every child throws fits; it’s normal. But getting upset or angry will only add fuel to the fire. The goal is for your little one to learn this is not an effective way to deal with their negative emotions.
Hold Your Ground: No Means No
If you’re in the grocery store, and your toddler is having a meltdown because you said no ice cream, stick to your guns. Don’t give in. If you do, it only reinforces the negative behavior and signals to the child that this is how to behave to get what they want. Stay firm and be consistent. If the answer is no, the answer is no.
Ignore Their Behavior
If your child is screaming or throwing themselves, often the best course of action is to let them do it. Obviously, make sure they aren’t going to hurt themselves, but as long as they are in a safe place, it is perfectly acceptable to allow them to let their emotions out. The idea behind this technique is that by ignoring the behavior, you are reaffirming the notion that negative behavior won’t get a reaction or attention. The child will begin to realize that this behavior will not get them what they want, or your attention to soothe the negative emotions they are feeling. This in turn will help the child realize that they must deal with these emotions differently since they are not getting the response they are aiming for.
Ignoring the behavior is only one part of this two-part technique. Just as important as it is to ignore their behavior, it’s equally important to follow up with the child and offer alternative solutions. Ignore the negative behavior while the tantrum is in progress, but once it’s over and everyone is calm again, try to talk to your toddler and let them know you understand how they feel. Offer them your love and attention while they are in a calm state. It’s also a good practice to offer alternatives and use phrases like, “When you're upset, use your words," or "let’s talk about how you feel.”
Redirect The Toddlers Attention
So back to that grocery store scenario: Your toddler is about to go into full-blown meltdown over ice cream. Before the screaming begins, you have the opportunity to redirect their attention to something else. A good example of this would be: “Instead of getting ice cream, why don’t you help me pick out a box of cereal?” The idea here is to get the toddler's mind occupied on something else. By doing so, you will direct their attention to another activity before the tantrum starts. This technique avoids the behavior in the first place, but it’s important to note that this does not always work, and it does little to teach the child about self soothing or dealing with negative emotions. On the other hand, it’s a great tool to avoid the tantrum in the first place, and can be used effectively before the situation gets out of hand.
Remove the Child From the Situation
Sometimes, the best option may be to remove the child from the activity. In our grocery store scenario for instance, maybe you could take the little one out of the store until he calms down and then bring him back. Sometimes, just a change of scenery gives the child a chance to redirect their focus. Another option is to utilize a safe quiet place where they can calm themselves before returning to the activity. An example would be time out. This is less about discipline and more about giving your toddler the chance to calm themselves and deal with their emotions. Sometimes, its all just too overwhelming you may see their tantrum as an overreaction, but to them, these are big emotions that they just don’t know how to deal with yet. A quiet calm place to settle themselves may be the best option.
Remember, It's Only Temporary
The most important thing to remember is this is only temporary. All kids go through this phase, and it will end. Be patient and remember the goal is to help your child learn how to effectively deal with their own emotions. It’s not about punishment or discipline. It’s a learning process.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.