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Taming Toddler Tantrums

My two year old will soon become a three-nager and, holy cannoli, is she feeling it! Maybe it's a growth spurt. Maybe she's cutting molars. I have no idea, and she's not talking. What I do know is that her moods have been changing faster than a hormonal teenager, and just about everything and everyone in her life has the capacity to piss her off. So what's the best way to deal with a toddler tantrum, and how can you stop them before they become a full-on meltdown?


Keep Kids Full and Rested. The most important thing you can do to avoid tantrums is to make sure your kids are getting enough sleep, eating enough at meal times and avoiding the crash that comes with eating too much sugar. I realize that this is easier said than done. We had a lot of sleep success after talking to Becca Campbell at Little Z's Sleep Consulting. She also has a blog filled with great tips. For healthy eating ideas for toddlers, I recommend the following books: Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family by Ellyn Satter, and Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook by Nimali Fernando. Also, I'm planning on buying this book, Adventures in Veggieland: Help Your Kids Learn to Love Vegetables with 100 Easy Activities and Recipes by Melanie Potock when it comes out in a few weeks. It looks like so much fun! My favorite toddler eating tip was to fill a muffin tin with all different kinds of healthy snacks (baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, berries, nuts, seeds, granola, etc.) to make eating healthy more fun.

Respect His/Her Feelings- It's important to make all children feel listened to and understood, even when you may think that they are being ridiculous. Acknowledge their feelings by verbalizing them or by expressing understanding. You can say things like, "You seem mad that you can't have another cookie. It's so frustrating when you can't get what you want." Depending on the child, you may want to follow up those words with a long hug. The contact and pressure of hugs have been proven to help many kids calm down.

Here are some other great ideas for what to say:

  • “You are so mad. You are showing me how much you wanted that candy.” (Source)
  • “I’m sorry you’re (state the emotion). When you calm down, I’ll give you a hug and we can talk about what happened.” (Source)
  • Use reflection. For example, if his arms are crossed: “Your arms are going like this (cross your arms). Your face looks like this (mirror his facial expression).” He will probably look at you, so take a deep breath. He might unconsciously take a deep breath with you. Then say: “You seem (state the emotion). You were wanting (state the desire).” (Source)
  • “I can see you’re really upset. I wish I could help you calm down right now. Here, why don’t you draw a picture that shows me how mad you are?” Replace drawing with any activity you think will be soothing to your kid or will help them redirect their energy to something positive. (Source)
  • “I love you no matter what you say, and you’re a good kid. But we need to take a break and then talk about this.” (Source)

Distract and Redirect- Toddler moods are often ships passing in the night. Though they can easily become upset, they are often just as easily all smiles again if you can provide an attractive diversion. Sometimes toddlers are so wrapped up in their tantrums that they need you to help provide them with an "out". Knowing what activities make your child happy, and using them to your advantage, can stop a tantrum in its tracks. It could be as simple as pointing out a really cool truck or bringing out a game that you know your toddler loves to play. You know best what will work for your child.

Walk Away- If you've already acknowledged your child's feelings and attempted to redirect them, without success, don't drive yourself crazy trying to get them to stop. At this point, it's ok to tell them that you're going to give them some space while they calm down. Obviously, if you're out in public or if your child is engaging in aggressive behaviors like kicking, head butting, etc. this doesn't apply. However, if it's your average tantrum, sometimes kids just need space and time to get their feelings out. Set a timer for a 2-5 minutes and then try again to offer hugs or to redirect.

Stay Strong. Sometimes tantrums seem to go on for hours, and those little terrors, um, I mean, toddlers, can really wear us down. Yes, it's important to pick your battles, but once you've put your foot down and said no, it's important that you stick to your word. This not only shows your child that no means no, but it teaches them that they can trust the words that you say.

The Gauntlet: Public Tantrums, Stay Calm and Get Out- If you've never been the victim of a public tantrum, believe you me, winter is coming. When my kids lose their shit in public I feel a mix of intense embarrassment and anger. This nasty cocktail makes it nearly impossible for me to keep my cool, but that is what we all need to do. When it's your turn to be the one everyone is staring at in the Target checkout line, don't yell, don't bargain and don't give in. Just leave your cart full of diapers, wine and clearance finds where it is, grab your child(ren), and silently whisk them off to your car. Everyone will be so impressed that you didn't go medieval on your kids that they'll forget all about the tantrum. You are not the first person this has happened to. There will be other parents staring at you, but don't take those as stares of judgment. They are silent stares of solidarity and the desire to give you a hug and tell you that everything will be ok, but they don't know you so that would be weird.

Be Proactive: I'm a reader and a planner so reading parenting books has always helped me to feel prepared for all of the parenting surprises coming my way. I haven't actually been prepared, but at least I've felt better in between crises. Here are the books I've read over the last eight years that have helped me navigate parenthood:

  1. Toddler 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Toddler by Ari Brown and Denise Fields
  2. Screamfree Parenting by Hal Runkel
  3. Life Will Get Better: Simple Solutions for Parents of Children with Attention, Anxiety, Mood and Behavioral Challenges by Nicole Beurkens
  4. No More Meltdowns: Positive Strategies for Managing and Preventing Out-Of-Control Behavior by Jed Baker
  5. The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When The World Overwhelms Them by Elaine Aron
  6. Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman
  7. Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too by Adele Faber

And if you need more proof that you're not the only one dealing with this crap, check out this book or this blog or this post. We've all been there. Stay strong, and we'll get through this together, mamas!

♥ Erin

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