Ten Top Tips for Taming Toddler Tantrums
When your toddler has developed a will, but not yet the means to express their needs or wants in a way that works, you may be faced with a tantrum. Tantrums are difficult to deal with, and even more so when you are tired and if they happen in a public space with plenty of spectators.
So, what to do? My tips are in two groups, ‘Prevention’ and ‘Cure.’ The conclusion explains a bit of my experience with Montessori education, an approach to communicating with children that I love. I hope that you may find something of use to you, and that it may strengthen the bond of love between you and your precious child.
1. Give choices
Who does not like choice? When your toddler realises that there are choices and that your choice for them may not be what they want, they may protest. If they feel strongly about it and they don’t know how to express their feelings they protest may develop into a tantrum. It may not be a conscious choice, but just a strong need to express their frustration.
One way to prevent this is to give your child the freedom to choose. It is an expression of love and respect because it shows your child that you trust their own ability to decide.
2. Enable action
Children love to be in action, it’s part of their nature and helps them learn about the world. Restricting them in highchairs, buggies and other devices may sometimes be helpful or necessary, but it can cause frustration and if it takes too long, may develop into a tantrum.
As a general rule, if it is safe for the child to move freely, give them their freedom. If not, explain why it is necessary and when they will be able to more around again.
3. Communicate about Cause & Effect
Your toddler may not yet understand your explanation of why they need a coat to go outside, for instance. Opening the door to let them feel the cold may help help, or putting on your own coat, or pretending you are cold. Other examples could be negotiating going home time in the playground, or wearing an apron to do painting. In general, don’t just say ‘No!’ but explain why if possible. It does not guarantee understanding or acceptance, but it is kind and it helps your child to learn.
If explanation does not work, you may be able to distract your toddler. You may be able to draw attention to a passing butterfly, a big cloud (or even an aeroplane) in the sky, a few drops of rain or a Daisy. You might just be lucky. If distraction fails too, then one of the next few tips may help.
5. Ensure safety
First of all you need to make sure that your child cannot hurt themselves or others, or cause damage. If a tantrum is in full swing, negotiation is not an option. If all is safe, then you can ….
6. Let it run
A full-blown tantrum is hard to interrupt and puts your toddler temporarily out of reach. Don’t try to restrain them or talk to them. If you can hold them without struggle, then fine. If not, just be there in the space with them and let the tantrum run its course. It takes an enormous amount of energy and at the end your child will be exhausted. If a hug is welcomed, hug them and hold them. If not, let them know that you love them by being with them. The message they need to receive is that you will not join them in their frustration but you are there for them. You know more peaceful and harmonious ways of getting what you need and you will help them learn those ways.
7. The three C’s: be Calm
The three C’s: Calm, Consistent and Curious, are absolutely essential.
A child throwing a tantrum is creating a mini-emergency. In an emergency we need reassurance. First aid workers are trained to calmly assess the situation, remove any dangers, then deal with any casualties. A tantrum is no different. Is your child in danger? If so, remove the danger. Is the casualty breathing? Clearly they are, so it’s not an emergency, just an over-reaction. Let it subside, then respond. Your child will learn that they can rely on you to be there for them when they need you.
8. The three C’s: be Consistent
NEVER let the child’s tantrum change your previously agreed and explained rules. If you do, the tantrum was successful and will be used again. Your child is simply learning about the world and their place in it, all the time. If there are good reasons for doing or avoiding certain things, then talk about them to prevent tantrums, and talk about them after any tantrums. Do this when the emotions have subsided, perhaps not even directly but through a character in a book. Make it relaxing and make it fun.
9. The three C’s: be Curious
Every tantrum is an opportunity for you to learn about your toddler. What is it that makes them feel so strongly. When does it tend to happen? Is it when they are tired? Is there a time of day when it is most likely? Do they feel strongly about certain people, or toys, or food?
Take the time to observe, and, afterwards, talk and listen. The better you get to know your child, the less likely it is that they will feel the need to resort to extreme behaviour that is very costly to them, too.
10. The Montessori approach:
Be your child’s best friend.
The Montessori approach was developed from close observation of children’s needs and then providing for those needs and that is what I am suggesting you do.
What a child wants is not always the same as what they need, as every parent knows. A best friend has the courage to be honest and does not shirk from telling the truth. Likewise our children need us to ‘tell them the truth’ about the rules in this world, so that they have the best chance of staying healthy, growing up and making friends. Not giving in to unreasonable demands is giving up short-term popularity in the interest of long term loving respect. Which would you rather have?
I would love for you to respond to this blog post or email me with your experiences at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please let me know if you would like to receive the full version of my Toddler-Tantrum-Taming Tips on which this blog is based so that I may send you the full PDF version.