We all have the capacity for temper tantrums, but what makes us grown-ups is our ability to navigate intense emotions, without making a public spectacle of ourselves. Toddlers, however, are not bothered by what people around them think of their loud public display of dissatisfaction nor are they even aware of them.
Today, while shopping at the mall for a college graduation dress for my oldest and a 5th-grade graduation dress for my youngest, we witnessed one such temper tantrum. The Dad stood calmly by the side of his hysterical 2-year-old who had snot and tears pouring, was red-faced and screaming. I was in awe of how calm the dad was – he didn’t even seem phased, almost as though the tantrum wasn’t happening. It’s the way we would all hope to handle a public crisis of the toddler-kind.
Tantrums can be a challenging aspect of a toddler's development and our own development as a parent. Sometimes our own reaction can be dependent on a few things:
- Situation - the child is having a full-blown fit in front of the new friends we hope to spend more time with.
- Emotional – you’ve had a tough day, and this is the last thing you need to deal with
- Physical – you have a huge headache and just want to relax with an Advil, rather than negotiate with a tiny terrorist.
However, understanding and implementing effective strategies can help us as parents navigate these tumultuous moments with patience and compassion. Here are some strategies that we have employed over the years with our various kids here at Bebe au Lait.
Stay Calm and Patient:
During a toddler tantrum, it's important for the parent to remain calm and composed. Tantrums are a normal part of a child's development, and your reaction sets the tone for how they will manage their emotions. Take deep breaths, maintain a gentle tone, and avoid responding with anger or frustration. Your calm demeanor will help your child feel safe and supported, eventually leading to a resolution. Remember, don’t fight fire with fire.
Validate Their Feelings:
If you can get a word in edgeways validate their feelings by saying things like, "I understand you're feeling angry/frustrated/sad." After all, don’t we all just want someone to understand us? Validating their emotions helps them feel heard and understood, reducing the intensity of their outburst. By acknowledging their feelings, you can also teach them appropriate ways to express and manage their emotions. When in full-blown tantrum mode, you might have to wait until they have self-regulated a little before interjecting.
Provide a Safe Space:
Sometimes a tantrum will involve them running away in the opposite direction. I once had a stand-off with my daughter when she wanted me, at 8 months pregnant to carry her all the way home from a walk. I told her I couldn’t, and that she needed to keep walking. She proceeded to RUN in the other direction, but she absolutely refused to walk in the one I needed her to go in. I knew she was safe, so I sat on a bench and waited for her to come to her 3-year-old senses. She did and then was annoyingly sweet and chatty while hiccuping from all the tears she’d cried. It turned a 2-minute fresh air walk into an hour-long one, but we eventually made it home and I’m not still sitting on the bench.
This brings me to a coping mechanism I’ve employed a lot as a parent. In the words of Darius Rucker, ‘It won’t be like this for long’ I highly recommend all parents listen to this song.
Use Distraction Techniques:
In the toolkit of parenting techniques, redirection, and distraction are the go-to survival skills.
From offering an alternative activity to making them laugh (‘Do you know your dad can eat ice-creams in one bite?’) or a sudden exclamation ‘Wow! Do you see that huge frog over there!?’ or showing them an object that captures their interest, diverting their focus away from the trigger of their meltdown.
Set Clear and Consistent Boundaries:
Establishing clear and consistent boundaries is essential in managing toddler tantrums. Create age-appropriate rules and communicate them effectively. Preferably before leaving the house. Consistency in enforcing boundaries helps toddlers understand expectations and reduces frustration. Make sure to explain the consequences of inappropriate behavior and consistently follow through with appropriate consequences when necessary.
Teach and Encourage Effective Communication:
Toddlers often resort to tantrums when they are unable to communicate their needs or frustrations. Encourage and teach them age-appropriate communication skills. Use simple words and phrases to help them express their emotions and desires. Encourage them to use gestures or pictures if they are still developing their verbal skills. By improving their communication abilities, you empower them to express themselves more effectively, reducing the likelihood of tantrums.
Dealing with toddler tantrums can be challenging, but by implementing these strategies, parents can navigate these difficult moments with patience and empathy. Remember to stay calm, validate their emotions, provide a safe space, and use distraction techniques. Setting clear boundaries and teaching effective communication skills also play crucial roles in managing tantrums. Ultimately, understanding that tantrums are a normal part of toddlerhood and responding with love and patience will help foster a strong parent-child bond and promote healthy emotional development in your child.
Good luck! And remember, it won’t be like this for long.