Are you at a loss for how to deal with a volcanic toddler that seems to erupt on a daily (if not hourly) basis? Try these 8 practical tips to stop toddler tantrums before they blow up the whole house.
Ah, toddlerhood. When our little babies really begin to develop their own personalities and STRONG opinions about life. When they start to do things for themselves…and want to do EVERYTHING themselves.
I have a two-year-old right now who has a serious case of “I do it”-itis, and it’s equal parts hilarious and maddening. I think I’m mellowing out this second time through the “terrible twos” because I find myself laughing more often than screaming into a pillow. I still keep the pillows handy though. That’s progress, right?
Really, I love the “terrible twos”, but they do bring
a few a boatload of real challenges. When my older son hit this stage, he would have such intense tantrums that he would throw up…multiple times a day. That was super fun. Thankfully, Little Brother isn’t quite so dramatic, but he does still have an impressive wail when things don’t go his way.
As I’ve learned to navigate the tumultuous seas of toddlerhood, I’ve picked up some simple and effective ways to calm my kids down during their tantrums.
8 practical ways to stop a toddler tantrum
1. Treat the root of the problem
Hangry toddlers are a real–and scary–phenomenon. Before you do ANYTHING else in response to a tantrum, take a half a second and consider if there is an obvious reason for why your child may be having a meltdown, especially if it’s something you can fix. When was the last time your child ate? Is your child due for a nap? Have you been wrapped up in a project (or conversation with a friend) for awhile, and might your child be crying for a little love from Mom?
It always made me laugh/cringe to see those moms at Disneyland who are dragging their whining/crying child off to the side and saying something along the lines of…”We are at DISNEYLAND. We are supposed to be having FUN. Stop crying right now!” All the while, the poor kid is exhausted because it’s four o’clock in the afternoon and they’ve been running around in a crazy, crowded, over-stimulating place for eight hours or more…probably after not sleeping well the night before because they were so excited.
I PROMISED myself that once I was a parent I would NOT do that to my kid. I would slow down, recognize that toddlers don’t have the stamina of an adult (nor the vocabulary to express when they’ve just had too much), and just take a break when we needed to. That was easier said than done when I was the one who had just paid an arm and a leg to spend a day in “the happiest place on earth,” but my point is that if we step back for a moment, we can treat the root of the behavior instead of reaching for a bandaid. Feed them. Put them to sleep. Give them attention. Check the basics first.
2. Find a way to put your child in control of something
If your child’s tantrum is a power move–they want (or don’t want) to do something that contradicts your rules or directions–try to shift the situation to give your toddler a choice about something–anything. Toddlers desperately want to have some measure of control over their lives, and the more autonomy you can give them, the better. Instead of telling your child, “Get in the car. It’s time to go,” try something like, “It’s time to go now. Would you like to race Mommy to the car, or would you like me to carry you?” Make sure that any time you give two choices, you’re really willing to let your child choose either option.
3. Ask, “Do you hear that?”
This worked brilliantly with Little Man when he was right about two years old. He would start screaming about something ridiculous (granted, in his mind it was a really big deal…juice being put in the wrong color cup is tragic, after all). I would get right down by him, and I would turn my ear toward a window, gasp, and ask him, “Do you hear that? I think I heard a little bird chirp!” or some other random sound that I thought would interest him.
Toddlers can’t resist being a part of something special, so he would often stop wailing, and start listening, too. Lucky for me, we have a lot of birds around our house, so I could usually spot one to point out to him and I’d say, “Maybe it was that bird that made the sound. What do you think?” This would distract him long enough that he would often forget about the tantrum and I could engage him in a conversation about the bird and then direct his attention elsewhere.
Often, when my kids get loud, my natural inclination is to get loud right back at them. But it turns out that getting loud escalates the problem instead of diffusing it. When I’m in “good mom” mode, I try to be calm with my kids. Often, my calm, quiet voice rubs off on them, and they will quiet down to hear what I have to say. This works especially well if you remember to get down on their level.
5. Hug them
Usually, the last thing I want to do when my toddler is screaming for the 73rd time today is give him a hug. More often than not, I want to scream myself and run away to my bedroom (by way of the pantry to raid the Christmas candy stash). However, I’m SLOOOWLY learning that sometimes all my boys really need is to feel loved and understood by me. The world is just too crazy for them, and their emotions are too big for their little bodies, and they just need mommy to scoop them up and hold them together for a moment until they can handle it again.
I’ve made it a goal lately to respond with more love and empathy toward my boys (because I don’t always default to that reaction), and it’s making a difference for all of us. As I’ve done this, I’ve noticed that I don’t have to give into my toddler’s demands or change the request that I’ve made. I just have to give him a hug. Sometimes, that’s all he needs to calm back down.
6. Ask “What do you need?”
I learned this tip recently from my sister. She told me about her twins’ preschool teacher who regularly uses this phrase to help the students verbalize their needs. A two-year-old may or may not be able to actually respond in an intelligible manner, but I still think this phrase sends an important message: YOUR needs matter to me, and I want to HELP. If our kids learn to believe that we mean those two things, we will have fewer power struggles and be able to work toward solutions. The trick: you can’t say it with a frustrated tone of voice. Kid’s can tell when you sincerely want to help vs. when you just want them to behave. Make sure it’s a sincere invitation for your child to come to you for help.
7. Change the subject
The power of distraction is real. When my toddler is wailing about some gross injustice in his life (like when I tell him he cannot dump the water from his sippy cup all over the floor), I try to get him interested in another activity instead. It doesn’t do a lot of good to reason logically with a toddler about why it’s a bad idea to make flour “rain” all over the kitchen. He isn’t likely to see value in keeping the kitchen clean, the way you do. Instead, give your child an idea for a different activity, and if possible offer to play with him. This is a good time to pull out an activity that you haven’t done in awhile. Bubbles…play dough…wrestle time…pick something your child loves and distract away.
8. Walk away
There comes a point sometimes when I can tell when my kids are too far gone to be reasoned with or distracted. When that happens, I get down on their level, tell them I love them, and then tell them that when they are calm I would be happy to help them solve the problem. Then, I walk away. I try to stay in the same room so they don’t feel abandoned, but I do not give them attention any more until they calm down.
On one particularly bad day, Little Man actually fell asleep after 15 minutes of screaming on the floor of the family room by himself because NOTHING else I did helped. Had tried everything else on the list, but on that day, he would have nothing to do with me. So, I chose to make sure he was safe, tell him I was here to help if he wanted me, and then let the tantrum run its course. That day, it took a while. More often though, when my kids realize that I’m not going to give in to their demands, they give up after a minute or two and come to me with a few sniffles looking for a hug, which I’m happy to give.
This too shall pass
At the end of the day, just remember, mommas, THIS IS A PHASE. It will pass. And if today’s attempts to be a good, patient mom to your little tornado end up crashing and burning in a smoldering heap of Cheerios on the kitchen floor, just repeat this last piece of advice: you can always try again tomorrow.
They are worth a second chance. YOU are worth a second chance. We’ll all figure out this parenting thing one day at a time.
Happy Friday, all!