First of all, all toddlers throw tantrums. They’re too young to know how deal with their intense emotions, and their kicking and screaming are their way of saying, ‘I’m frustrated, I don’t like what’s happening, and I’m going to make sure you know it.’
That being said, you can’t let your toddler’s tantrums control you. Giving in to them teaches him that tantrums are 1) effective, and 2) a perfectly acceptable way of behavior. So, one of the most important parenting skills is to be able to deal with tantrums in a firm but positive way. Here are some parenting tips on avoiding tantrums, and dealing with them.
1. Use routines and transitions
Many tantrums can be averted with a little planning and sensitivity. Don’t feed your child’s frustration by starting activities knowing that you will have to end them abruptly. Toddlers like predictability and are creatures of habit—so a routine will be calming and also very effective at setting rules and limits. ‘We only watch cartoons for one hour, then we go to the park.’ Or, ‘We eat at the dining table, not on the bed.’ Do this every time and your child will take it matter of factly, and not put up a fight. It also helps to give a heads-up for any transition: ‘We will leave after bath time’ or ‘Three minutes and we pack up the toys and get ready for bed.’
2. Watch for tantrum patterns
Take note of when your child usually throws tantrums. Does he get agitated in large crowds? Does he usually have meltdowns after 4 pm? Knowing the tantrum triggers can help you take steps to avoid or prepare for tantrums: don’t go to the supermarket until your child is in the best possible mood, like after a nap or a meal, or start calming activities like a bath and book time once the clock hits 4.
3. Give two choices
Tantrums are a part of your child’s desire to assert his independence. You can give him a sense of control, within acceptable limits, by offering two choices: ‘Time to dress up! Do you want to wear the red or the yellow shirt?’ Or, ‘Let’s pack up the toys. Do we start with the blocks or the books?’
4. Don’t be an audience
When your child throws a tantrum, first make sure he is safe and then ignore him. Don’t negotiate or argue, because he is not going to listen and you will only be caught in a power struggle. Also, by stepping back you also help yourself calm down—and you need to stay calm, because if you lose your temper you lose control of the situation. (If you have a tendency to yell, here are tips on how to stop yelling at your preschooler.)
5. Teach him how to communicate feelings
‘Label’ the feeling so your child gradually learns how to express what he feels in another way. ‘You are frustrated because your toy broke,’ or ‘You are tired and want to go home.’
6. Teach calming techniques
Teach your child to relax, by taking 5 deep breaths, or going to a ‘quiet place.’ Only talk to your child when he is calm.
7. Don’t belabor the point
When your child has calmed down, don’t stretch the argument. Just say very simply that you did not like what he did, and then explain what behavior you expect. Then, hug him and say ‘I am glad you are feeling better’ and move on to another activity. Don’t mope or make fun of what he did.
Photo from blog.syracuse.com