Toddlers are tough. They test you and push you to your utmost limits until you feel like you just can’t take it anymore! My girls are all two years apart, so when one finally grew out of the crazy toddler phase another one would just begin.
Why do toddlers throw tantrums?
Between the ages of 1-4, children are trying to learn control over their body (physically) and how to communicate properly (verbally). Tantrums manifest themselves either because of the frustration of not being able to communicate, control themselves, or to simply test the limits of what they are allowed to do.
So, tempers are unavoidable.
But they can be prevented from happening all the time.
How do we nip tantrums in the bud? Before an all out scream fest in the candy aisle (avoid candy aisles).
Well, what I found is that my children showed a consistent pattern whenever they acted out. The cause was always one of the followings:
- They were overtired.
- They were hungry.
- They were stressed.
- They were overstimulated.
I had to keep reminding myself that for my girls, a temper tantrum was their last-ditch effort in not being able to communicate one of the above issues.
So, most of the time, tantrums can be stopped before they escalate by keeping them fed, napped, at ease, and comfortable. But let’s be real; mom, how often can we keep our bold toddlers happy ALL the time?
Here are some ways that worked for me:
- Always keep healthy snacks and toys handy.
Besides their daily meals, healthy snacks are a good way to curb tempers from coming on. The right amount of fat and a little protein can go a long way, especially if they refused to finish lunch. It not only keeps their tummies happy, but it is a good distraction when you are out and about as well. Toys always come in handy too. It gives them something to focus on and have control over when they are in the cart or walking beside you. Don’t forget to bring a snack for you too because we seem to forget about us moms!!! A hangry mom never helps the situation.
2. Keep it simple.
To avoid stressing your children out, keep their day simple. Communicate effectively. Tell them the plan for the day, “We are going to the grocery store, the bank, and then Grandma’s house.” This way, they feel like they are part of a team and are in the know. However, do not overcomplicate things by adding more than a few choices or too many options. This can overwhelm them and make them feel like they are forced to go to a long list of places they do not want to go.
3. Live your life by the 5-minute warning.
When you are out with your girlfriends, do they all just leave in the middle of your girl’s night? No, afterwards they say they are going to leave soon because they have an early morning or what not. This is what it is like for a toddler. Always give a 5-minute warning before changing activities. That way, they feel in control and are prepared to move on to the next task, especially when they are enjoying themselves. Once again, consistency is the key to that first “blissful” moment when you child actually says, “Okay Mom!!!”
4. Plan your day with their routine in mind.
You know what you have to accomplish that day, so plan accordingly. Do not leave grocery shopping for right before their nap time or lunch time. This says tantrum all over it. Plan the outings and stimulating activities for earlier in the day before they become overtired or hungry.
The Key is to Remember to:
PREP – PRACTICE – WARNING – PRAISE
Prepare your child for the day’s activities and go over what is acceptable and non-acceptable behavior.
Practice with your child before the situation happens. It’s polite to say “Please” and “Thank you,” “Hello,” especially when greeted with a “Hello,” etc. etc. etc. Practice does not always make perfect, however, it will the more often the child is held to a higher standard. Just like in reading, spelling, sports, etc., practice is necessary for success.
Warn the child diplomatically that if a “situation” arises, what the outcome will be. For example,“If you throw a tantrum, we will leave” or “You will have a time out.”
Always try and say “Yes”a lot. However, ALWAYS stand firm in your “NOs.”
In other words, let your “YES be YES” and your “NO be NO!!!”
Remember …YOU are the MOM!
It’s the Moms privilege to raise the child to be a
Pleasure to YOU, to your Family, and to Society.
5. Praise goes a long way.
Little children want to please their Mommy and Daddy. The better we ALL feel about ourselves, the better we want be.
Praise can be as simple as:
“ Mommy was so proud of you when you picked up your toys,”
“You really made grandma happy when you cuddled with her”.
*See suggestion #7 below for more on Praise.*
Putting away off-limits items during these sensitive time windows allows you to avoid a fight as well. Pick your battles. More often than not situations will arise with time-schedules being off.
However, consistency will always pay off. YOU GOT THIS MOM!
When they are overtired, let them have the noisy toy that drives you mad so that you can get what you need in the market.
6. Give your child some choices daily.
I know this one sounds crazy, but I don’t mean let them pick the entire day’s events. Give them little choices like which toy to bring out with them or if they want cereal or eggs for breakfast without being a short order cook.
For your older children 4-5ish, make a weekly menu together. Give them several healthy choices to choose from:
This makes them feel like they have some control over their life and thus, they are less likely to act out in frustration. Make sure to keep their personality in mind. Do they like structure and routine? Then provide this for them by maintaining consistency in their day. Do schedules stress them out? Have some spontaneity in their day to relieve them of the rigid plan.
7. Praise them for doing the right things.
If you have heard of the love languages, verbal affirmation is commonly craved by many children. Do you like constantly being put down and told ‘no’? Make the point to praise them when they do what you ask. Did they put their toys away? Did they control their temper? Tell them how proud you are and give them a loving hug or a treat.
Ways that I avoided constantly barking ‘no’ at my girls were childproofing my home, giving them time to be a kid (running and playing outside), and offering alternatives. Instead of saying, “No, you cannot have more chocolate today,” try suggesting “If you are a good girl all day, you can have some after dinner.”
Now, while all these ways help stop temper tantrums from even starting, sometimes they are unavoidable. They come anyways, full force and in the worst moments.
How do you stop a full-fledged temper tantrum?
I had to establish a method that worked, especially during our daily outings.
This included trying all the ways out there that you see online or that worked for family and friends.
So, at first, I found out exactly what NOT to do.
During a tantrum, do NOT:
- Give in to their demands.
We do not negotiate with terrorists!!! This is the easiest mistake to make because it will be the quickest way to stop the screaming, especially when pressured in the middle of the grocery store. Instead, ignore the judging onlookers who have not experienced parenthood and focus on your child. Calmly tell them, “You will not get what you want this way. When you calm down, we can talk about it.”
Why not? Toddlers are smarter than we give them credit for. The moment that you make that compromise, it will become their go-to way of getting what they want. It encourages repeat behaviour. And can you blame them? It worked the last time.
- Walk away when in a public space.
Lots of people out there recommend walking away, but this only makes things worse. Instead, ignore the outburst by not making eye contact and not responding, so that they know this will not work. This way, they know you are still beside them but are not condoning this behaviour. If the tantrum does not simmer down quickly, take the child’s hand and walk away together.
Why not? Children throw a tantrum when they are under stress, feel out of control, or feel abandoned. Walking away only increases these feelings and usually makes the tantrum intensify. Also, you want to make sure they are in a safe place and cannot hurt themselves, and this cannot be guaranteed in a public space.
- Get frustrated and upset, yelling at them to stop.
Studies have shown that raising your voice or using physical punishment (spanking) does not help in this particular situation. Instead, remain calm and gently but firmly tell them this is not going to work. One mom I know will whisper to her child. He stops screaming, so he can hear what she has to say.
Why not? When children lose control, they need to know that their parent still has control over the situation. If they escalate and become inconsolable, try holding them gently. Move away from the source of their anger and wait it out.
What worked for me? How did I stop temper tantrums in their tracks?
1. Distract them before it escalates.
In the beginning stages of a tantrum, I found distraction was the easiest way to stop their temper before it progressed. A change of scenery always helps. Bring them to another aisle, or another place in the store.
If they want to take home a stuffed animal and you have already said no, get them excited about seeing something else. “Let’s race to the next aisle” or “First one to find the tortillas wins.” This is also where the handy snack or toy they brought comes in to play.
2. Play a game.
Teaching them new skills is always a great way to keep their brain engaged. Try teaching them a new game or playing one of their favorites while you are out and about. My girls always loved I-Spy or the alphabet games, especially when we were on our long road trips.
Being silly is also a great way to break the tension. Make them laugh by pulling funny faces or telling jokes. Laughter always diffuses anger. However, do not go too far with this to make them think you are making fun of them.
3. Give them a purpose.
Sometimes, children just want a sense of purpose out in the big scary world where they are constantly told what to do. Ask them to be your helper today. They can help you find the next item on the list or let you know if their baby sister/brother needs anything.
At the checkout, have them count the items to make sure you got the right amount. This makes them feel good about helping their mommy and gives them something to use all that mental energy for.
4. Ignore the outburst.
As previously mentioned, this does not mean walk away. Simply, turn your head the other direction and demonstrate that this behaviour will not get them what they want. Calmly tell them that this will not work and when they are done, you can discuss the situation.
This way, they do not feel abandoned but are also not winning by defiance in a public space. If at home, you can walk into an adjoining room because they are in a safe space. But only do this if previous methods have not worked.
5. Hug it out.
If the tantrum has become uncontrollable, it is best to gently squeeze them in a hug until they calm down. This situation is similar to when they hurt themselves playing outside. If the crying becomes out of hand, they are screaming at the top of their lungs, and their face is going beet red causing chocking or hyperventilating, calm words will no longer work, so it is best to hug them and show them you are there for them and as calmly as possible walk out of the public area. All moms or dads have had to do this a time or two.
And when they do stop, tell them you love them, but they cannot have what they want.
When it is all over. Make sure they know they cannot do this again.
In the aftermath of the tantrum, it is time for discussion. Ask your child what made him upset. Make sure to dwell on the source of the outburst and not the outburst itself. This isn’t what he should focus on. He should focus on what made him angry and how you can prevent this frustration from manifesting itself like this again.
For example, if the temper started because he could not get a toy racecar at the store, ask him if this is why he was upset. Why did he think screaming and crying would change your mind? Why does he need this racecar when he has so many at home? Explain toys are for good listeners, etc.
It is so important not to take their acting out as a personal attack on you.
Temper tantrums are a normal part of toddler-hood. It is not that they hate you, and it does not reflect on your parenting style whatsoever! This is just them acting out and you, unfortunately, are the target of their temper because you are the adult who said no for their own good.
What worked for other parents?
Sometimes, we just have to get creative when nothing else works!
Kelly, a mother of four, has a great idea that helped her when taking her kids shopping at target. She told them that Target was a magical place that cast a spell on all who entered, making them want to buy everything they see. (I mean this could not be truer. I love target!) So, each time her daughter wanted something to take home, she would remind her it was the spell and her child would put it back. If this sounds like something that would work on your children, follow the link below to read more! Or come up with your own strategy!
A mom I know, suggests matching your child’s intensity. Whenever her little boy makes a situation a big deal, she recognizes his level of upset and reciprocates. When he was crying over not getting to take his cousin’s toy home, she stood in front of him waving her arms and dragging out her words, “I know you want this toy! It means so much to you! But this is Brandon’s toy and he loves it so much. Let’s go home and we can play with some of your favorite toys.” This method works when your child just wants his sorrows to be acknowledged. I understand you feel ______ because of _______.
I have also heard of creating wish lists. Instead of saying no, tell them to add the item they want to their wish list on your phone. Then whenever they are being a good listener or for the next birthday, buy them items from the list.
Being a parent is the hardest job I have ever had.
But it made it all the easier by paying attention to the little things before they became big things. Watch for trends when it comes to tantrums. What usually sets them off? Is it the same time of day? Is it the same phrase used? Once you notice these patterns, it is easy to curve the next temper tantrum before it starts.
Also, always make sure to respond to negative behaviour immediately with a time-out. The general rule is one minute for each year of age. Having a reliable punishment creates structure with children and harnesses the stress of acting out. A good discipline routine cuts down on the toddler tantrums as well.