Curbing Your Toddler’s Temper Tantrums
We’ve all heard the demands, the screams, the crying, and the all-out throwing themselves on the floor that many toddlers do to get their way. These are called temper tantrums. But you probably already knew that.
When children are little, especially when they are still not talking or have just started learning to talk, the temper tantrums begin. It can all start with just a simple no or not right now from a parent.
I’ve even seen it go down without any warning at all, as they are struggling to get a door open, get their seat belts off, open a cabinet, take the top off of their sippy cup, put their shoes on or take them off, or any other random event that may occur.
Although these may be the single most frustrating, annoying, upsetting, angering, blood boiling times on the face of the Earth, your toddlers are simply trying to learn how to express their feelings.
They are frustrated, angry, confused, and upset and this is the only way they know how to convey that to you. However, the very worst thing you could possibly do when your toddler throws himself to the ground, screams and bangs his fists on the floor, is to give him what he wants.
I know this sounds strange, and if anything counter-productive, but read on and you’ll quickly understand.
What do you do when your toddler throws a tantrum?
The Big Choice
For one reason or another, their little lives have just spun out of control. They don’t understand these feelings, and all they know is that they are angry, frustrated and upset. This is a critical time in their lives where you, as the parent, can choose which direction to steer them.
Do you teach them that they found it? This is definitely the way to get my attention when you’re upset and get what you want. In fact the louder you scream, and the more your fight, the quicker I’ll respond. OR do you get to use this moment, better from the very first moment, to show them how to tell you what they need, and how they feel, so you can make everything better?
Most parents, unfortunately, choose the first option. Give them what they want so they’ll stop screaming. And from that point on, through no fault of their own, you have taught your child that violence and noise is the appropriate way to show their frustration. They will now repeat this for you every time they feel any other negative feeling so you’ll fix it for them. Congratulations!
But for those few parents that have a little patience and take the following steps for raising their children to be well-rounded individuals that can express themselves in a healthy way, and sometimes that means accepting disappoint with class, you have truly hit the jackpot.
Attempt to Calm Them Down
The first step is to calm them down. It may be difficult at first, but you must express to them that in order to understand what they need and want, they must calm down and be able to tell you. It will take them a few minutes to calm themselves down, but this is what you want. Give them the time they need to calm down.
If for some reason, they can’t, I always take these four simple steps:
1) I give them a hug
2) I tell them I don’t like it when they are upset
(OR for more experienced tantrum throwers, I tell them that crying and screaming is not how to get what they want.)
3) I ask that they go to a quiet place to calm down, and when they are
4) I’d love for them to come back and talk to me so we can figure out what they need
They are learning to moderate their feelings and reactions and convey their needs with words. Once they tell you what it is that they want, “But I wanted to go outside!,” you can then discuss the situation with them.
Show Some Respect
Keep in mind that they are little and don’t know yet how to handle these feelings. Screaming, yelling, hitting, pushing, and shaking are all not appropriate ways to handle this. It is your responsibility as the parent, or caregiver, to help them through this, and show them the right way to handle this situation.
They need and want your guidance. Give it to them. And don’t treat them like they are stupid. Children have more brain power and capability at this time in their lives, than at any other time they will ever have again. They understand just as you do, without the life experience.
Give them the respect they deserve, and treat them like they understand, because they can and they do. One of three things can happen from above. First they could calm down and talk to you, which is ideal.
For those situations, we will move on to communication. Second, they could go to their room, or any other quiet place that you decide on, or that you come up with together, until they calm down. When they return, and they will, they always do, you can then move on to communication.
Finally, for those a little more stubborn, they may ramp it up for you. Stay calm, the worst thing you could do at this moment is lose it. For these little ones, I confirm their feelings (“I understand this has got to be frustrating for you.”), give them permission to cry (“You are more than welcome to cry. Sometimes I cry when I get frustrated as well.”), but also ask for the same respect from them (“However, if you are going to be loud, I will need you to do it in the other room so that you are not disturbing the rest of the household.”).
This usually moves them to leave the room to go calm down, but if it doesn’t, jump to the Don’t Fear Time Out section.
Having That Conversation
1) Calm her down.
2) Make sure she is ready to talk.
3) Ask her what upset her so badly and listen.
4) Repeat her concerns back to her.
5) Acknowledge her feelings.
6) Respond to their desires with a positive or negative.
7) If negative, explain it to her in adult words.
8) Answer her questions honestly.
9) Try to arrange a future time for her desires.
10) Express your appreciation for her calming down and talking to you.
It seems like a long process, but you get used to it really quick and it becomes second nature. Make yourself note cards if needed.
For those little one that are willing to calm down for you, whether it be right at that moment, within a few minutes, or after having some time to themselves to calm down and come back to you, they are now ready to tell you what they need. I always start it out with “I’m so happy you’ve calmed down. Are you ready to talk now?” (with a smile).
All this talking sounds ridiculous doesn’t it, especially with a child. But you know, this is super critical, especially with a child. You’re words and actions are telling them what’s happening, showing them how you feel, and teaching them how to handle this. If you skip this, you will be doing it again and again and again until you do it (or until someone else does).
Ask them to tell you what’s going on, and why they were upset. It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant their need, confirm it by repeating it back to them (“I know you wanted to go outside.”), and then give them an answer (“I wish you had told me. Let’s go outside!” OR “I wanted to go outside too, but it is too cold/late/dangerous right now.”). They will ask you why if they cannot do whatever it is they wanted. Be honest with them.
They need to know why, for real. Is it because they might get hurt, because you care, because it’s too cold, because it’s dinner time and you want them to be hungry? What is the reason? Really? The more honest with them you are, the more they’ll understand, respect your wishes, and let it go.
If you can, arrange another time for them to get what they want so they know when it is appropriate to ask for that. (“Let’s go outside during the day tomorrow after lunch when it will be warmer.” “Let’s have some caramel popcorn after lunch tomorrow when we don’t have to worry about the sugar keeping you awake.” “We’ll wear those jammies when it gets cooler outside and you won’t sweat.”)
Finish it off with an appreciation that they calmed down and talked to you. (“I really wish you didn’t scream and cry when you needed something. I understand you get frustrated sometimes, but it’s so much easier when you can talk to me and tell me what you need. I really like it when you’re happy.”)
This will tell them that talking was how to get what they wanted, even if they don’t get it until tomorrow. In the future, they’ll let you know if they cannot get the door open, would like to help you make dinner, need a special blanket to go to bed, want to help you fold the laundry, or are just disappointed that they didn’t get to do something they wanted.
And it’s actually really cute to hear them use your words again later to explain the situation to themselves. Toddler: “We can’t go outside right now because it’s too cold.” lol
Don’t Fear Time Out
Remember the toddler that wouldn’t calm down, screamed louder and refused to go to a quiet place to calm down? This is when the dreaded Time Out kicks in. Don’t be scared of it. If you need to call it something else, feel free to. This is simply a time or a place, or both, where your child goes when he or she is not acting right, or following directions, to calm down and think about what’s happening.
Acknowledge their feelings, treat them with respect, but don’t allow your own rights to be taken away, or the rights of others in the household. “I understand you’re upset, and you are welcome to cry. But you can’t do it here.”
If need be, you may even need to gingerly pick your toddler up (taking care not to jerk any appendages or hurt them in any way), and set them on their bed, or wherever it is you’ve decided was the right place. I don’t suggest this being the same room, because this means they still have your attention, and that’s the point of all the ruckus in the first place.
It’s very interesting, every time I’ve set them in their rooms (because this is usually the safest place for them), on their beds, as soon as I’ve left the room out of their line of sight, the crying usually stops on a dime. It’s crazy how they can go from 100 to 0 in a matter of seconds. They really just want your attention and they think this is how to do it.
By getting out of their line of sight, the crying usually stops and they come down to talk, because they really don’t want to be alone. In the end, Time Outs just convey that if they are not going to be allowed to be disrespectful, and that sometimes you need a chance to calm down before you can talk, and that’s okay.
Now you can go back up to the Communicate section and learn how to have that conversation with them.
It is critical if you want the temper tantrums to stop that you do it the same way every time and stick to what you say. The more they see you doing it the same way again and again, they'll learn that they can trust you and they’ll get used to the routine.
By being consistent, you are setting them up for success. If they know what's happening next and how to handle it, they will be comfortable and come out on top every time. All this means is that if they know that you don’t respond to crying, ever, but instead they need to talk to you to get what they need, they will.
The worst thing you can do is to give in to their demands when they are crying, screaming, banging their fists on the ground, scratching, biting, hitting, or kicking (yes, some of these can get bad depending on how long they’ve been trained to do so). It comes back to that consistency again.
If you “train” them that you give in every time they throw a fit, even if it takes a little while, they will learn that this is how to get what they want, and it will get harder and harder to get it to stop when you have had enough.
Finally, the best piece of advice I can give you is to be patient. You have to be tougher and more stubborn than they are for this to work. I have some funny stories to tell you that will show you the benefits of this method.
I’ve never had a toddler that didn’t break this habit within 3-4 days of trying the tantrums on me. In fact, most of them stop at 1-2 days. At one point I watched a precious little one, 3 years old, who held out for 4 days for me. She was a tough little girl and I told her so. On that fourth night, after another day of crying and more tantrums, she lay in bed smiling and told me that I was pretty tough too. She said we would find out who was tougher. Lol
I laughed and told her it would be me every time. She laughed too and asked me for a hug and good night kiss for the first time, and told me she loved me.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting brute force, wielding your authority over your child or anything else like that. I am simply trying to teach you how to teach your child to handle their negative emotions with respect for others, all the while teaching them how much you really do love them and care about them.
It may take a day or two, it may even take a week, but with patience and consistency, you will teach your child a valuable life lesson and give yourself the gift of a toddler that talks to you about their feelings rather than screaming.
I love children. I don’t think there are bad children, only bad examples and bad choices. By treating them with the respect they deserve, talking to them like they understand, and giving them a better way, you are giving your child a wonderful gift.
By following this simple system, you will no longer have to worry about the temper tantrums. When your child needs something, or feels something negative, they will tell you. They will ask you questions to better understand the situation, reason with you so that they may get what they are looking for at a future time, and express disappointment when things may not go their way, with words.
I would love to hear your comments, your success stories, and your questions. Parenting doesn’t have to be hard, and there’s no reason you and your child shouldn’t enjoy this wonderful relationship.
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© 2013 Victoria Van Ness