By Catherine Konstantinos, M.Ed. TEIS Developmental Specialist
Ah, toddler tantrums– undoubtedly one of the most frustrating parenting experiences. Your child might throw himself on the floor, kicking and screaming, over the smallest frustration. He might become aggressive and bite or kick you. Maybe he loves to throw his toys when he gets upset. And the tantrums might last for longer than you thought was possible. Toddler stamina can be incredible!
Sometimes, the hardest part about toddler tantrums is knowing the right response. It’s very tempting to give in to a power struggle to end a tantrum (“Fine, let’s buy the candy then!”) or give in to your own big emotions and become angry. In the moment, it’s difficult to respond rationally– especially if you’re in public and just need him to quiet down as quickly as possible. Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution for taming tantrums–every child is different–there are a few strategies you can keep in your back pocket for the next time a tantrum hits.
Stay calm. When your child’s emotions are out of control, he needs you to be a calm base. As difficult as it is, make a conscious effort not to raise your voice or use an angry tone. Of course, you might be just as frustrated as he is, but it will be much easier for him to calm down if you project an air of being calm, strong, and confident in the face of his tornado of emotions.
Acknowledge feelings. When your child is having a tantrum, he’s trying to express big, scary emotions. The feelings of anger, frustration, or sadness can feel overwhelming and terrifying for a toddler who is just starting to experience them. It often helps to give names to those feelings. You might say, “I know you’re mad because you didn’t want to wear a coat. You’re so MAD! But it’s not ok to bite me. Biting hurts.”
Don’t give in. As tempting as it is to give your child what he wants to end a tantrum, it’s important to stay consistent and firm. If you give in, he’ll learn that having a tantrum works to get him what he wants– and then he’ll use the same method again next time! Instead, try to give his theatrics as little attention as possible. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to engage yourself in a different activity that he enjoys so he might become distracted and move on.
Take a break. Sometimes, you might need to calmly and unemotionally remove your child from a situation so that he can calm down. This is not a punishment or “time-out,” but just a chance to give him some space to calm himself. You can tell him “It seems like you need a break from playing so that you can calm down.” When he is calm, praise him for calming and let him return to playing. You can also remove toys that are causing frustration.
Use the moment. Instead of seeing tantrums as bad behavior, remember that they are a completely normal part of healthy toddler development– and they can be used to teach new skills. When your child is having a tantrum, take a step back and think about what caused it and what you can teach him in the moment. “Your toy broke and that made you so sad! Come here and ask me to help. I am here to help you if you ask.”
When it comes to dealing with tantrums, your perspective is everything! Try to remember that tantrums and other limit-testing behaviors are normal and developmentally appropriate for toddlers. However, if you have a calm, confident response, your toddler will learn how to manage those big feelings without big tantrums!