Five Ways to Calm a Toddler Tantrum
Sometimes known as the terrible two’s or the terrible three’s, or as they are called in my house the terrible tantrum throwing two’s and three’s (or the ugly 5T’s), the toddler stage of child development is full of mood swings. While many parents claim to love all the stages of heir child’s life, without some type of strategy, raising a toddler can easily steal your joy and crush your soul. Here are five tips that can help stop the downward spiral of ear splitting screams of “I want a cookie” and replace it with the adorable giggles that remind you of why being a parent is the greatest thing, ever, except for being a grandparent (or so I hear).
ONE: Give Them a Bath
When their world has come crashing down for one reason or another, few things are as soothing as stripping down and getting in a nice warm bath. This works best if you don’t ruin it by turning it into a time to get water and shampoo in their eyes. Just let them sit in the bath and play. Often giving the toddler a small cup or washcloth to play with will help them forget about whatever had rocked their world five minutes earlier. For some extra fun give them a bubble bath, if you don’t have bubbles, you can always put a few drops of liquid dish soap in. The bubbles are huge and frothy. Another fun addition is a few drops of food coloring. Kids love to watch the color spread through the water in the tub. Add red and blue and show them how to make purple.
Lots of Reasons to Cry
TWO: Feed Them
Strange as it may seem, toddlers don’t always know when they are hungry. They are going through a period of tremendous physical and mental growth. All that development burns a ton of calories. If they are irrationally cranky, try to feed them something. I said try because I have had toddlers. Sometimes even when they are starving they refuse to eat. If that is the case try one of the other tips first and once the little darling has calmed down, feed them before their inner rage resurfaces. The foods that work best are fruits and proteins like those found in nuts or peanut butter. These will often have the most immediate impact on hunger and mood.
Why Toddlers Throw Tantrums
Toddlers understanding of the world is outpacing their ability to express their thoughts and feelings. There are frustrated. They don’t yet have self-soothing mechanisms or inhibitions against kicking, throwing, and screaming. The immediate cause may be anything from hunger, lack of attention, lack of motor skills to accomplish a goal, or anger and frustration and not understanding something. Research suggests kids are actually hardwired to throw at least an occasional tantrum. Click here to read a great article about the science on tantrum from Parenting.com.
THREE: Be Silly
Sometimes when you're feeling down, you just need a good laugh. The same is true for your toddler kicking and screaming on the floor. You probably cannot solve their problem, but you can distract them. Physically get down on their level and do something silly. Sing a song, tickle them, make faces, or pretend to slip on a banana peel, anything to make them laugh. Once they start laughing they often can’t stop. Laughter is great for health. It produces all kinds of healthy chemical reactions in the brain. Laughing with your toddler will help both of you feel better, and will actually help you feel a stronger bond.
Toddlers Moods Change Quickly
The most embarrassing place my toddler has thrown a tantrum is:
FOUR: Ignore Them
Not all fits are equal. Toddlers are canny creatures. Once they begin to learn the basics of causation, they try to manipulate you. The push you until you cave. If the tantrum is about trying to get you to reverse a parental decision, it may be best to just ignore it. Time and place are obviously key here. We tell our children they are welcome to be upset or angry, but if they are going to throw a fit, it needs to be in their room where it won’t disturb the rest of the family. Letting the toddler cry it out a few times can work wonders in their compliance. Sometimes it even leads to naps.
Change the Environment
Don’t Negotiate With Toddlers
There is no reasoning with an angry toddler, literally. Toddlers have not yet fully developed the part of the brain that processes cause and effect. They do such crazy things because they are just learning that their actions have consequences. They know some of what they do affects the people and things around them, but they have not yet figured out the likely results of their actions.
FIVE: Go Outside
Occasionally what is needed is a change of scenery. Going outside can put a stop to tantrums. Again this distracts the child by giving them something new to focus on. Nobody in our Internet Age spends enough time outside. Take your child outside and let them play, or take a walk together. Don’t let bad weather be an excuse. If it’s raining or snowing out on appropriate clothing and go outside for even a few minutes. Remember nature and weather are still new to toddlers. The wonder on a child’s face when you tell them it’s okay to play in the rain this time is priceless.
Tips For Preventing Tantrums
Parenting is the ultimate improvisational art. Much of what has worked for my children was an experiment created out of desperation. Toddlers are not little adults and cannot be talked into being happy or compliant. They can and need to be taught good behavior and appropriate boundaries, but no teaching can happen during a tantrum. I certainly don’t have all the answers. My youngest is now a toddler and is trying me in ways my other three didn’t. I would love to hear other thoughts in the comments about ways to deal with toddler tantrums.
© 2013 Jason McBride