(Disclaimer: In the photo above my toddler is incorrectly strapped in due to thrashing and anger from a tantrum where she pulled her seat belt down. The car is not moving and we did not drive with her strapped in this way. When she calmed down, I strapped her in correctly and we were on our way.)
My daughter is in the throes of tantrum times. She is around 17 months and is quite dramatic. I don't remember my son starting this early, but I actually think he knew more words by this point and that's why he tantrumed less.
Anyways, I always thought I was a patient person before I became a parent. In fact, the staff that worked with me always remarked at how well I handled even the most insane behaviors from kids.
Fast forward a few years and my patience isn't as incredible as it used to be. I've mentioned how I struggle with getting angry in a previous post called Eight Ways to Deal with Anger as a Parent.
So tantrums have been the bane of my existence this week. Some have been completely warranted on the part of my daughter... some that my son has had have been completely and utterly irrational and seemingly out of the blue.
So, why do tantrums happen and how do you deal with them?
I am going to share some basic reasons for toddler tantrums and some ideas of how I deal with them. Pass along your advice too. Some of you are wayyy more creative and experienced than me!
Basic reasons for toddlers tantrums:
1. Can't express what they want/need
2. Trying to assert their independence
3. Want to be in control
4. Too many limits
5. Basic needs not being met- tired, hungry, thirsty, etc.
Ways to deal:
1. Distract, distract, distract
Toddlers have notoriously short attention spans. This can be used to our advantage as parents. Today my daughter threw a tantrum at gymnastics because she wanted a turn on the trampoline and another kid was jumping right then. She doesn't understand waiting and turn-taking yet, so she just gets mad.
I explained in short phrases that he was going to take 10 jumps and then it would be her turn. I acknowledged that it was hard to wait her turn and she must be frustrated. I talk a lot with my kids about how it is ok to get upset or cry when you are angry/frustrated. That conversation wasn't cutting it though, so we moved over to another thick mat and I pretended that it was another trampoline and jumped on it. She got distracted having fun doing that and stopped screaming long enough for the other kid to get his 10 jumps in and move off the trampoline. Distracting doesn't mean that you don't acknowledge your child's feelings and recognize they need to express them. You can do that first and then help them find something else to do while they wait. In my daughter's case, I showed her another option of what we could do while we waited instead of standing around screaming. If I were an even better mom, I would probably say something like, "When I am waiting my turn for the trampoline sometimes I like to practice jumping to get ready for my turn..." or share another tool my daughter could use while she waits her turn.
2. Give your child the words
A lot of toddler tantrums stem from the fact that the child doesn't know how to tell you what they want. I think it is really important to be aware of this and slow life down so that you have time to model the words they should use when they are frustrated and need something. My daughter throws tantrums when she can't climb up on a chair or reach a particular toy. Just giving her words like, "Help me mama" or "up" really alleviates her frustration. As you do this over time, toddlers will need less and less modeling/prompting and will begin to use their words more and behavior less to communicate. This is so easy to forget in the busy pace of the day... especially when you have more than one child or other things pulling at your attention. Fortunately your child's tantrum can easily help remind you if you forget :)
3. Ignore (the behavior, not the child)
Sometimes there is really nothing you can do as a parent to snap a kid out of a tantrum, so I ignore my daughter's tantruming behaviors as best that I can and focus on teaching the appropriate behaviors/ways to express her feelings/needs. I acknowledge my child's feelings (mad, frustrated) and make sure my child knows I am trying to help her. Then I focus on the positive behaviors that she can use to get help (use words, gestures, etc.), ignore the negatives ones, and give attention to the other kids/adults around me that are acting/behaving the way that I want my daughter to act/communicate.
4. Take a break
When my daughter woke up from her nap today she was grumpy about everything. Nothing made her happy and everything my son did (even silly or nice things) made her cry or throw herself on the floor and get mad. After trying to help her cheer up for about 30 minutes, I put her back in her crib with her stuffed animals and let her take a break. She cried, she talked to herself, and after about 10-15 minutes she was calling for us and happier. Toddlers can't really say things like, "I'm still tired" or "you got in my face too much right after I woke up and I needed to be left alone for a little longer..." so sometimes they just tantrum or cry. In my daughter's case, I think she needed to have napper for longer. Giving her time to be alone gave her the opportunity to wake up the way that she wanted.
Sometimes taking a break also just means removing my daughter from a situation that is hard (like sharing toys) and giving her some extra love. When she is calm, we'll return and try again.
5. Use Humor
This mostly works when I have my son or husband around when my toddler is tantruming. It is so much easier to deal with her silly antics when my 4-yr-old looks at me and laughs quietly at how crazy his sister is being. We kind of share a little inside joke together and it is fun. It totally makes dealing with crying and screaming so much easier.
Now, when they are both throwing tantrums, that is a different story. With my son I can randomly say something goofy and usually snap him out of anything. With my daughter I can give her a tuba kiss on her tummy or cheek and sometimes that will get her giggling and distract her from a tantrum for a minute or two.
6. Change the situation
This is my favorite thing to do. It kind of goes along with distracting. If kids are having a rough day, we get out of the house or leave wherever we are (if that is possible) to change things up. Usually once we've moved locations my toddler with the short attention span forgets about why she was throwing a tantrum and gets interested in something else. This is one of the reasons that we like to make sure to get out of the house several times a day! Helps me stay sane too!
7. Set the limit... and follow through
Toddlers are always testing boundaries and trying to figure out the rules. There are so many rules that they don't understand or don't know about yet. As a parent it is our job to teach them how things work and set expectations and consequences.
For example, in our bathroom we have a large jacuzzi tub that my kids like to bathe in. My daughter loves to climb up the sides and stand on the wide edge of the tub. I spend a lot of time showing her all the things that are fun that she can do in the tub and then remind her not to stand on the edge of the tub because it is slippery and dangerous. She still loves to stand on the edge, so when she does, we give her a warning. Usually the second time she does it, we remove her from the tub and she is done with her bath. This usually causes a tantrum, but as we continue to be more consistent, she tantrums for less time because she is beginning to learn the rule.
Being consistent is critical. If you change the rules, then toddlers get so confused and more frustrated! Be consistent and make your limits simple, reasonable, and enforceable.
8. Plan Ahead
Bring snacks if you'll be out running errands and you think your child will be hungry/thirsty, don't plan events for when your child should be napping/in bed as much as possible, don't over-schedule your day, and bring toys or other items to distract your child when you are out and about. These are pretty basic, but it easy to forget these things as a busy parent. I am guilty of often wondering, "Why is she so annoyed?" only to remember that lunch was at 12 and now it is 3:30 and my daughter hasn't had a snack or even a drink since then! Adults can get stuff for themselves, but toddlers are reliant on us... I'd be grumpy too if I didn't know how to ask for something and I was starving or thirsty or bored!
Now these ways to deal don't cover ways to respond to all of the many reasons above why toddlers throw tantrums... but these are a start. They also aren't anything super new or unique... but I need these reminders daily! I could do a whole other post on dealing with aggressive toddler tantruming behaviors like hitting, kicking, etc. too. Toddlers definitely keep us on our toes as parents, don't they?!
- How do you deal with toddler tantrums?
- What are your creative tricks or tips?
- What causes toddler tantrums at your house?
** As always, just a reminder. I am a parent and an educator. I am not perfect. This post shares my opinions. I am not a parenting expert. Please use what works for you and leave what doesn't. I love to learn from others, so feel free to share resources with me that have been helpful to you. They may also be useful to other readers!
PS- Do you need some extra parenting tools? Amanda Morgan of Not Just Cute has an awesome e-book that I am devouring right now called Parenting with Positive Guidance. I highly recommend it.
Also, my friend Alissa over at Creative with Kids has a wonderful Positive Parenting pinterest board that you should check out. She also has a great series on her blog with Positive Parenting resources that you can find online and in stores. I can always use new tools in my parenting tool belt, so these are great places to start.
Lastly, I am part of an amazing collaborative pinterest board called Parenting With Presence led by Zina over at Let's Lasso the Moon. There are so many great parenting resources on this board.
Toddler Approved also has several parenting posts that you can find in our Best of Parenting Section.