We love my daughter’s name, but I am starting to question if it was a good choice. It means “Queen” and good Lord, she definitely plays the part! I have accepted that tantrums are just part of our day for the next year or two from what I hear from other parents. She is almost two and a half and the power struggle seems never ending.
Today’s meltdown causes are as follows: milk at breakfast was not delivered in a timely fashion, baby brother was touching empty milk cup, it was time for breakfast and she wanted to play with the puppy, breakfast was yogurt and not cereal, I got out blocks instead of puzzles, her requested water was in fact water, lunch (she just didn’t eat lunch today), and last but not least, daddy left for work. Okay, she can flip out about that one, because I don’t like him leaving either!
It really does feel like the tantrums are never ending, with no way to fix the problem. Let’s face it, half of the time we really don’t know what the problem is.
I have been dealing with tantrums for quite some time now. My daughter obviously has them and I have been responsible for many tiny little ones, who always seem to be on the brink of an emotional breakdown. In my experience, the tantrum stage doesn’t really go away until they are around four. Even then it’s pretty likely that a preschooler will have some pretty regular freak outs.
How do we stop them?
How do we make it better?
How do we prevent them?
First off, let me start with this: tantrums are normal. They are actually expected! If you don’t have a two or three year old that loses it from time to time, then you are very, very lucky, my friend!
Not every tip I am going to list will help. There is no perfect fix or one right way to deal with your toddler’s big emotions! Do what you feel is best for you and your family.
The logical part (frontal cortex) of our brain doesn’t fully develop until we are 25 years old. A toddler physically can’t reason and react appropriately without being taught (over and over). Furthermore, there is a great deal of research that shows it is completely normal for a toddler or any person to have an angry reaction to what they perceive as distress. “Neuroscience has shown there are circuits that are activated for anger and aggression in response to different triggers,” says R. Douglas Fields, Ph.D, author of Why We Snap. “It’s part of the brain’s threat detection mechanism. The key concept is this anger and aggression exists to fight, and exists for violence because we need it.” Until that cortex is fully developed, it’s our job as parents to teach our little ones how to have feelings and what is appropriate. So if you didn’t know what caused the tantrum, you do now.
Where do we go from here? My kid is still on the ground screaming.
It is so easy to take the angry road. Believe me, been there, done that. And I don’t always keep my cool! Count to 5. Take deep breathes. Do whatever you have to do to stay calm before you dissipate a tantrum. If it is the 314th tantrum today and you just can’t deal, then be sure your child is safe from harm and walk away for a few minutes. If you are at this point in a public place, find a restroom, dressing room, quiet corner and set your child down, turn around and clear your head for a minute. If you are angry, chances are you aren’t going to discipline your child the way you should. Not only that, but your child needs you “to be the calm in their storm.” If you are just thunder and lightning to their little rain storm, you are just going to make it 100 times worse. Angry actions are easier than calm ones.
Everyone has a bad day sometimes. What do your friends and loved ones do for you when you have a bad day? If they are kind and gracious they ask how they can help, they level with you,and let you know it’s okay to be upset or they tell you that you are in the wrong and help you get through it. Either way, the logical answer for any type of emotion is never “stop it”, so why would be expect that from a two year old?
Bend down, sit down on the floor or kneel – You need to be eye to eye with your tiny human. Towering over them is scary and intimidating. When you get on their level, you are more likely to have a better outcome.
Touch them – Hug it out, tickles and laughing, or simply put a hand on their arm. Your child longs for your touch. Not all toddlers love being held or snuggled all day (mine would let me some days), but your touch has a powerful part in soothing the situation.
Validate the situation – “I understand…” are your two magic words. Name and validate your child’s feelings. For example: “I understand you want to play. You are sad that we have to go, aren’t you? It’s okay to be sad, I am sad when I have to leave sometimes too.”
- Don’t try and use logic.
- Focus on the feeling and emotion that is happening. Find your child’s niche to get through their emotions.
- Be a role model. Your little one needs to know that it is okay to have feelings. As a parent, you are there to help them through their emotions. A child will never properly learn what actions should go with their feelings if you, 1. Don’t let them have them, and 2. Don’t help them through the emotion.
- “Use your words, I want to help but I don’t understand screaming” – This phrase right here works so well in my home! Your child still might not get what they wanted in the end, but they will feel like you care and that you are listening.
- If your child is on the younger side and just starting tantrums, be sure to still say “use your words”, but help them along a little more. Generally, if they are on the young side, they at least can say some words and phrases like “yes”, “no”, “more”, “gstop” etc.
Talk about an upcoming daily event. “It’s almost dinner time, how about you help me get the plates out?” Asking a child to help, whether they’re really helping or not, makes them feel important and generally changes their mood. If they aren’t old enough to help or there isn’t anything to help with, distract them with a new activity.
Let’s imagine that it is time for lunch, you turn off their favorite cartoon and they start the usual tantrum. Chances are, your child isn’t old enough yet to understand the difference between “off for now” and “gone for eternity”.
If the producers of Grey’s Anatomy ended my show at this point in time, I would probably turn red and have my own little hysterical meltdown. Not only does your child not quite understand why, but they physically are agitated and don’t know how to communicate that.
- Remain calm. Show that it is not an acceptable way to show they are upset and try to diffuse the situation.
- Take a picture. Make yourself calm down first! Insensitive? Yes, probably a little, but remember that no parent is judging you and that it will pass. You don’t want your child to learn that if they embarrass you enough, that they will get what they want.
- Get down on their level, make contact, validate. – Consistency! React in public the same way you would at home. Yes, it might be nerve wracking and hard, but eventually the tantrums will be further and further apart.
- Wait it out in a quiet place. Find a dressing room, back corner of Target, wherever and whatever works.
- Try your hardest not to leave. Your child needs to learn how to behave in public settings. Not only that, but you have to learn how to discipline in a public setting! Sometimes giving in is the easiest way out and sometimes just plain not dealing with it is also, but the tantrums aren’t going away so it’s best to learn to get through them.
- Awareness – Respect your toddler. Talking to your toddler like a human is important. You wouldn’t trap your husband in car, not tell him when dinner time was or not let him have play time. So, while you’re doing things, talk. “We are going to the store and after the store, we are going home for lunch.” Children thrive on structure and the awareness of that structure!
- Conquer the power struggle by staying consistent. In our home, we follow simple steps.
- Speak once
- Allow child to listen
- If they don’t listen, repeat what you said
- If they still don’t listen then the parent moves.
If it is something like “stop throwing the toy,” then I take the toy and remind her that it is not okay to throw toys, because she could hurt herself or someone else. If the throwing continues, then she goes to time out. We always say “when you’re done yelling at me, you can come back and play” and generally timeout is short-lived. And there are no long term consequences.
- Be sure your child is fed and has had water, is clean & dry and has slept well. My daughter is a nightmare if any of these are off. God forbid we eat 15 minutes later than usual. Poor child gets hangry! So, just be aware of the circumstances to prevent a tantrum. If you are running late and it’s dinnertime when you leave the store, then just simply say “I know you are really hungry, I am too, but don’t be sad. We are going home to get some dinner.” Again, make your child aware.
- Praise everything! Your child yearns for it and they will work for kind words. Mommy or Daddy being sad can be the worst thing to them and generally they will try to make it better!
Toddler tantrums will happen. Your child is not a “brat” or “bad” and it is not a personal attack on you as a parent and it definitely doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. It is normal, exhausting and discouraging, but you can get through it! Be sure to have plenty of adult time and always remember that each day is a new day. Your toddler barely remembers why they were mad five minutes ago, much less yesterday. Start every day with a smile and stay strong. The tiny crazy monarch will one day leave your home, and you will be left with an awesome kid and a whole new outlook on that mom staring at her two year old on the floor, kicking and screaming ,at the grocery .