Any links to Amazon are affiliate links.
How to Deal with Toddler Tantrums. What to do in the moment when your toddler is having a tantrum and how to prevent toddler tantrums in the future.
Toddler tantrums can be intense. Here you have this sweet little person who has so far really only cried when physical needs haven’t been met. Sure, there have been a couple of times some crying has happened when the child didn’t get her way, but for the most part, it has been benign.
Then the toddler years come.
Toddler tantrums can leave you speechless and scrambling to try to figure out how to react and what to do. You don’t want to give in, but you don’t want the screaming to continue, also. You will feel an extra layer of panic if your toddler is having a public tantrum.
Tantrums are normal. When your toddler has a tantrum, it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with her. “The propensity of throwing temper tantrums is a normal phase of development” (On Becoming Toddlerwise page 160).You will be better able to handle a toddler tantrum in a way you are happy with if you have a game plan before the tantrum happens. Let’s discuss some key points.
How to Deal with Toddler Tantrums
Here are some tips and key points to remember when your toddler has a tantrum.
Understand Your Main Goal
As a parent, your goal is to help your child develop life skills. When your child has a tantrum, you don’t want the tantrum to stop simply because you find the screaming and stomping annoying. You want your child to learn to manage feelings and emotions in a less abrasive manner. Keep your main goal in mind. That helps you avoid credit card parenting. You aren’t trying to simply mask the behavior; you want to get to your child’s heart and train her to respond better.
Give Clear Instructions
Do not give instructions that end in questions. For example, you don’t say, “Get your shoes on, okay?” Okay gives room for a “no” in response, whether a verbal no, ignoring you, or throwing a fit. “Please get your shoes on!” is better. Even better than that is “Please get your shoes on. Say ‘Yes Mommy’!”
Maintain Your Composure
When your toddler is having a tantrum, always work to maintain your composure. If you lost your temper, you are effectively having an adult version of a tantrum. You can’t expect your toddler to keep her cool if you cannot keep your cool. Be sure you maintain your composure so you set a good example for your child.
You also want to maintain your composure so you can think straight. You want to be able to stop and think before you respond (see Tantrums: Stop and Think for more). That way, your response can be intentional.
Do Not Reason with Toddler
A toddler having a tantrum is not a rational being. There will be some toddlers who are super logical people. You might be able to reason with those toddlers in the heat of the moment. For most, however, you cannot lean on your toddler’s logical side chilling out and snapping out of it. You need to have your response and your consequences without trying to sit and talk things out with your toddler.
Hug Your Toddler
Sometimes a tantrum can be soothed with a hug. When you take that child in your arms and simply hug the toddler, she might be able to calm down and stop having a tantrum.
Have Respect for Toddler’s Feelings
A tantrum is often an intense emotional response to something not going the toddler’s way. Respect that your child has feelings and it is okay to have feelings. It isn’t necessarily okay to express those feelings by having a raging fit, but the feelings are okay.
A helpful thing to do is repeat your toddlers frustrations or feelings. “You don’t want to go home right now. You want to stay and play. You feel sad that we are leaving.” Saying those things helps your child realize you do understand why she is upset.
Read: Big Feelings: Talking Through Tantrums With Your Child from Team Cartwright
Use Distraction and Substitution
Distracting your toddler or giving an alternate to what she wants to do are a couple of great ways to stop a tantrum from happening. These tools can at times feel like you are not really addressing the root of the problem with the tantrum. In the moment, do not be afraid to use these tools to help with the tantrum. If you feel like there are bigger issues at hand, read up on the ideas in the “How to Prevent Toddler Tantrums” below.
When your child has a tantrum, you will want to have some consequences in mind. Remember your goal; you are trying to help your child learn to respond to that disappointment, anger, etc. through other ways. You might have a time out until your child can get things under control. Your child might lose a toy, privilege, or freedom.
How to Prevent Toddler Tantrums
You can never eradicate tantrums from your life completely. Remember, tantrums are normal. You can, however, help your toddler learn to manage those intense emotions so that tantrums are less often and less intense.
Practice Having Delayed Gratification
Tantrums often happen because the toddler isn’t getting what she wants when she wants it. If you want to avoid the same tantrum in the future, do not give in to this tantrum! The tantrum will only grow and become more intense next time. So you aren’t giving in to any tantrum or fit.
You also will do well to work on teaching your child delayed gratification. This is accomplished during times of non-conflict. I find a timer to be a great tool in teaching delayed gratification. Hand Folding is another great way to gain self-control.
Train in Times of Non Conflict
One of the best parenting tools out there is training in times of non-conflict. Teach your child coping skills when there is not conflict going on. During a tantrum is not the time to teach your toddler about hand-folding. You teach that when your toddler is calm and happy. You make it fun, interesting, and engaging. Then when the tantrum comes, you remind your toddler about hand-folding. The skill is already known; your toddler is just being reminded.
Analyze Freedoms of Toddler
So many tantrums are rooted in the child having too many freedoms. I frequently talk about freedoms because it is such a root cause of issues. Read up on How to Stop a Tantrum by Addressing the Choice Addiction and Too Many Freedoms for help in this area.
Have a Solid Schedule
If you have good night sleep, great naps, and eat consistently during the day, your toddler will be better able to control herself. Just like adults, toddlers can be impatient and rude if they are low on sleep and/or hungry. Independent Playtime can really hep your child stay happy. I found my toddlers were less likely to have tantrums during the day if we had independent playtime that day.
You will want your toddler to have a consistent, predictable daily routine with regular meals and naps. Toddlers are notorious for trying to avoid sleep. If your toddler is delaying bedtime, see the post Toddler Bedtime Routines-How to Stop Your Toddler From Delaying Bedtime from Mama’s Organized Chaos for help.
Teach Your Toddler to Be Flexible
Your toddler might be having a major fit because she can’t handle things changing up on her. She wants things a certain way and any change is too much for her to handle. If your toddler is having tantrums because of this, read up on Helping Your Toddler Be More Flexible from Journey of Parenthood.
A toddler’s tantrum can leave you feeling like you have failed as a parent. Always remember tantrums are a normal part of development. You can follow the advice above to deal with toddler tantrums like a seasoned mother.
If you have twin toddlers, be sure to read up on The Terrible Twos Times Two: Tantrums with Toddler Twins from Twin Mom and More.
For all of my posts on discipline, see the Discipline Index. It is full of helpful ideas.