5 Ways to Deal with Toddler Temper Tantrums
I have two toddler boys at home. At the time I am writing this, my oldest is 3 and my little one is 1 1/2. It is truly a joy to be the mother of two hyper rambunctious little boys...but it is also very often frustrating.
I can't promise these tips will work 100% of the time, but they sure have done a lot to help me--especially when we're out in public. Give them a try, adjust them to your lifestyle and your child, and let me know how it turns out.
This is my preferred method of dealing with temper tantrums. It is most effective when employed right at the start of a tantrum.
My sons and I travel on the NYC subways and trains often. When they are tired or grumpy, this can be a real pain. If a tantrum is brewing, I will stop them right away by distracting them.
If we are by a window I'll turn their attention to outside, "How many cars can you count? Can you see a red one? Hey did you see the taxi?"
Or I will change the topic of conversation to something they enjoy, "Hey, do you want to watch Superman when we get home? Did you enjoy playing at the park today?"
If talking gets them nowhere I jump to my other forms of distraction. Usually I will carry around a toy or game I know will keep them occupied. Otherwise I will keep a notebook and pen/pencil on me for them to doodle in (I MUST have two of everything to avoid bickering). If they don't take to doodling right away I'll draw them something to distract them and usually that will lead them to want to draw too (for easy doodles you can learn to draw for your kids check out my hub on shape drawings).
It helps to have a really peppy and excited attitude and tone of voice. It gives off more positive energy which will help deter tantrums.
2. Talk It Out
This is most effective when the tantrum has already started, but is not yet full-blown.
I want my sons to feel comfortable talking to me. I want them to learn how to identify problems and develop positive ways of expressing themselves.
If my boys are crying and I can't figure out why I will ask them--as calmly as I can, "Can you tell me what's wrong?"
Sometimes this helps, but very often it won't.
I may try again, "Can you use your words and tell me what's wrong?"
If still no reply I'll go down the list of options, "Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Do you need to be changed? Are you tired? Do you feel sick? Are you sad? Why are you sad?" Etc...
This usually works with my oldest, who speaks well already. It doesn't work as often with my little one who knows a lot of words, but isn't yet forming sentences. Still I use this method with both to set up the foundation for better communication in the future.
Additionally I'll ask things like, "Do you want to talk about it? Do you want a hug? Do you want a kiss? Do you want me to rub your belly?" Etc...
Even if they are upset over being reprimanded I will still offer them this affection because I want them to know that, "even though Mommy didn't like what you did, I still love you very very much."
Whispering and Using Low Voices
If my sons act out in a public place or around a lot of people I will talk things out with them by whispering in their ears, or if I can I take them to somewhere away from people and talk to them in a low voice only they can hear.
I do this for a number of reasons.
First, concentrating on what I am telling them diffuses their rage.
Second, speaking in a low voice sometimes makes them lower their voices as well.
Third, I do not want to embarrass them by reprimanding them in public. I make this very clear to them too. "You are not the only one here, people are looking at you. They are wondering why you are crying and making a lot of noise."
My little one couldn't care less about that last part, but my oldest is more conscious of people now and when he realizes that he's making a scene he will often settle down.
3. Breathe and Count
Dealing with a tantruming toddler can definitely bring out the worst in you, especially if you are already stressed out. Yelling back or getting angry will only worsen the situation. Kids are really sensitive to the energy we put off, so if you're putting off angry aggressive vibe, they'll respond it it.
When you feel so mad
You want to, "ROAR!"
Just take a deep breath....
And count to four.
My boys and I usually need to count to four a couple times before we're fully calmed down, but this is still a very useful way for us all to control our tempers. Plus, it will usually inspire my oldest to start singing other tunes he knows.
4. Get Physical...In a Positive Way
Here are a couple of ways movement and using our bodies help prevent and diffuse tantrums.
If they are just starting to get upset, encourage them to shake out their feelings--from their toes and fingertips all the way to the top of their head. Just shake those angry feelings out. If we're at home I'll put on music and we'll just turn it into an impromptu dance party. Dance those feelings out!
If possible, we'll go for a walk. Fresh air and a stroller ride relax the boys and often put them to sleep. Most of their tantrums are due to sleepiness and irritability. While outside we'll let some energy out by going to the park and running around a bit.
Car rides work the same way. Especially if someone is tired. Although, this has the opposite affect on my little one, who happens to be the only baby I know that hates car rides.
I am always surprised by the power of big hugs. Very often, all I need to do is say, "Do you need a hug?" And they will reach up for me to hold them and the tantrum will be done. They feel better and I feel great because I get to cuddle my little guys.
5. Stay Positive
If the tantrum is the result of discipline, I try to offer alternatives, turn it into something good, or say something to help them feel good about themselves.
"You cannot have a cookie right now, but I will make you a really yummy star sandwich and if you eat it all up you may have a cookie later." (FYI: Star sandwiches are sandwiches cut in the shape of stars using a cookie cutter. My kids love them!)
"You cannot play with the blue truck because Blaze is playing with it right now, but in a few minutes he will give you a turn. Why don't you play with the fire truck until it is your turn to play?"
"It's too rainy to go to the playground, but we can play music and build a fort!"
"I know you really like that show and want to watch more, but I need your help giving your little brother a bath."
"You can help me read our bedtime stories."
I find the more relaxed and happy my attitude is, the more effective I am at settling them down.
Preventing Tantrums in the First Place
The tips I've mentioned may work for you, they may not. They have definitely helped me a lot. The best way to fight a tantrum, though, is to avoid it from happening in the first place.
Around the time my second son was born, my oldest started having tantrums all the time and was absolutely inconsolable. I'm sure there were many factors involved, sibling rivalry, growing pains, inability to communicate efficiently. Having to take care of a newborn and an angry toddler left me feeling pretty hopeless at times. Finally, seeking some sort of advice, I read the book "If I Have to Tell You One More Time..." by Amy McCready.
It was very insightful and even though I felt my boys were a bit too young to benefit from all that I learned from the book, I do believe reading it gave me tools to be a better parent. The book doesn't describe quick fixes but shows you how to evaluate your parenting style and improve it. It also helped me get into the mind of my children and understand what they are thinking and feeling and will be thinking and feeling in the future. McCready shows readers how to set up healthy habits and develop good behaviors to avoid power struggles and tantrums.
With what I learned from reading her book--and just from my own experience--I started taking preventative measures to avoid tantrums and misbehavior.
1. Everyone is important and has a job to do. Once I started giving my oldest things to be responsible for (such as getting a clean diaper and wipes, throwing away an old diaper, putting things in the sink), I noticed his tantrums started to dwindle a bit. He started to enjoy being the big brother.
2. Set a routine. I don't know how I managed to take care of my boys for so long without being on a routine. For far too long we would go to bed whenever, take a bath whenever, wake up whenever, it was madness. When I went back to work this was an impossible lifestyle to maintain. I started setting a bathtime for the boys, then we would read books, then it would be time for bed. It took a little while from them to catch on, but now we (almost) never have trouble getting them to bed as night. As a result, they are fully rested and less grumpy during the day.
3. Make time. If you have time to sit down in front of the TV or talk on the phone or go on the computer, you have time to play with your kids. Providing plenty of positive attention will prevent your children from seeking negative attention.
4. Don't be so bossy all the time. Who enjoys being bossed around, all the time? I sure don't. As adults we call these people "nags." Yes, I'm a parent and I want what's best for my kids, but I know if I constantly nag them--eventually they'll become resentful and tune me out. So, I try to think of ways to get my point across without being a big bossypants.
5. Stay healthy. Eating well and getting enough sleep and exercise can improve the moods of everyone in the house.
Do Yourself a Favor....
...and find the humor in all this.
Kids grow up so fast. I try to remind myself of that anytime I get frustrated or start feeling burned out. Time is fleeting and your little one doesn't stay little for long. Enjoy it. Embrace it. And when times get really rough--document it--so you can get your sweet, sweet revenge when they're older.
Stay sane, mommies and daddies! You've got this!