Who said toddler tantrums are not normal? While Im sitting here writing this post, my wife is on the other side of our home with our nineteen month old son who is throwing a tantrum of immense proportions. Its difficult to accept the truth but tantrums are totally normal for toddlers and believe me, you will face them some time during your toddlers development. The simple reason is because toddlers feel so passionately about everything because they simply don’t have enough frontal cortex capacity yet to control themselves when they’re upset.
Having said that, you’ll be glad to know that many tantrums are totally avoidable. Many tantrums are a result of feeling powerless like being unable to reach for the olives container in the fridge! Our son is totally in love with Portuguese olives and lupins and can never get enough of them and if he can not reach them he throws a tantrum that shakes the houses foundations. Then you get toddlers who feel they have some control over their lives and thus have fewer tantrums. Since toddlers who are tired and hungry don’t have the inner resources to handle frustration, managing your toddler’s life so he isn’t asked to cope when he’s hungry or tired will reduce tantrums. A bit of prevention really goes a long way.
So how do you deal with your toddlers tantrums? Here are a few steps that can help you deal with your toddlers tantrums.
1. Since most tantrums in our home happen when our son is hungry or tired, we try and think ahead.
Preemptive feeding and napping, firm bedtimes, enforced rests, cozy times, peaceful quiet time without media stimulation (very important)— whatever it takes — prevent most tantrums, and refocuses kids who are getting whiny. The trick is to learn to just say no — and not to your kid but to yourself! Don’t squeeze in that last thing to do. Don’t drag a hungry or tired kid to the store. Make do or do it tomorrow. We sometimes tend to forget that they are still small individuals that tend to lash out when we push them a bit too far.
2. Make sure your child gets a whole load of your love and attention.
Kids who feel needy are more likely to tantrum. If you’ve been separated all day, make sure you reconnect before you try to shop for dinner. Spend some time with your little one before you go on with life chores. Play with your child and strengthen your bond with your little one. Walk in the garden and show them the flowers or water the garden with your toddler. Toddlers need to be outdoors in order to develope properly so why not spend some time with them outside after work.
3. Try to handle tantrums so they don’t escalate.
It’s amazing how acknowledging your child’s anger can stop a brewing tantrum in its tracks. Before you set a limit, acknowledge what he wants.
“You wish you could have more olives, you love olives, right?”
(Look, he’s already nodding yes!) Then set the limit:
“You need to eat some veggies, too. We’ll have more olives later.”
(As you move the olive container out of sight.) If he responds with anger, acknowledge it:
“That makes you so mad. You really want the olives.”
Keep the number of words you use pared down:
“You are so mad!”
4. Sidestep power struggles.
You don’t have to prove you’re right. Your child is trying to assert that he is a real person, with some real power in the world. That’s totally appropriate. Let him say no whenever you can do so without compromise to safety, health, or other peoples’ rights.
5. When your child gets angry, remember that all anger is a defence against more uncomfortable feelings — vulnerability, fear, hurt, grief.
If you can get him to go back to those underlying feelings, his anger will dissipate.
“You wish we could stay at the playground….You’re sad and mad that we have to go.”
6. Create Safety.
Usually at this point your child will cry. If he’ll let you hold him, do so. If he won’t, stay close, even if he won’t let you touch him. He needs to know you’re there, and still love him. Be calm and reassuring. Don’t try to reason with him. Your goal is just to create safety, so he can let all those feelings come up. Once he gets a chance to show you his sad feelings, he’ll feel, and act, a lot better.
Think about what you feel like when you’re swept with exhaustion, rage and hopelessness. If you do lose it, you want someone else there holding things together, reassuring you and helping you get yourself under control — but only after you’ve had a good cry.
When the tantrum is over:
First, take some “cozy time” together to reconnect and reassure. (No, you’re not “rewarding” the tantrum. He needed this connection with you or he wouldn’t have had the tantrum to begin with! And of course, make sure that your child gets enough “cozy time” with you that he doesn’t have to tantrum to get it.)
Second, tell the story of what happened, so that your child can understand and reflect, which builds the pre-frontal cortex:
“You were having such a good time playing at the playground…you didn’t want to go home. When I said it was time to go, you were sad and mad…You yelled NO and hit me…I said No Hitting! and you cried and cried….I stayed right here and when you were ready we had a big, big hug….Now you feel better.”
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