Toddler Tantrums are like earthquakes.
They can be short, localized and relatively painless, or they can be long, far-reaching and destructive. Toddler tantrums have no regard for the time of day or for your current location — they strike without warning and, often, without mercy. Nothing about a toddler tantrum is convenient and when you recognize one is upon you, you can’t be sure of its magnitude. Instead, you hold your breath, brace yourself and wonder if this particular tremor is going to be “The Big One.”
My 2 ½-year-old daughter is the kind of kid who melts down routinely for any variety or reasons, and often, for none whatsoever. It could be that she doesn’t want to brush her teeth, or because she isn’t allowed to throw chalk at the dog, or because she asked for a grilled cheese and I made her a grilled cheese.
At around 18 months, her tantrums started to take their toll on our home and my own sanity. I was walking on eggshells in my own house because I couldn’t handle another meltdown, and nothing I did would calm her down. I desperately needed to reclaim control of our home.
So I began educating myself on the topic — reading books and articles, researching methods and talking to people with backgrounds in early childhood development. And though there is no “foolproof” method to calming a tantrum because different children may require different things, most children in most situations aren’t inconsolable. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of calming techniques to help you navigate those tantrums whenever the ground starts shaking beneath your feet.
1. Keep your cool. Nothing else matters if you can’t manage your own reaction to your child’s tantrum. I have yet to meet the toddler who can find calm and clarity while being barked at by an adult. Admittedly, this is much easier said than done, and I lose my patience much more often than I like to admit, but it’s really important to hold it together. The more collected you are, the better shot you have at successfully managing the tantrum.
2. Diagnose the issue. More often than not, the cause of the meltdown isn’t because your child’s crayon broke or because a blueberry touched his or her plate. The tantrum is a symptom of a larger issue, which is usually something avoidable altogether…and, sorry to say, possibly the fault of the parents. For example, your child may erupt in a self-induced convulsion on the floor because he or she is overtired. If that’s the case, it’s on you, and you should make sure that he or she is well rested.
No matter how diligent you are with your child’s sleep, you will inevitably have an overtired child — whether from teething, jet lag or just a busy day. It’s helpful to keep in mind why he or she is acting this way, so you manage it better and don’t do something as psycho as implementing a blueberry ban in your home. (Guilty.)
3. Get on their level. Some tantrums are unavoidable. The first thing any parent or caregiver should do is get down on the same level as the child. After all, no one wants to feel talked down to, figuratively or literally. Toddlers, too, are actual humans, and regardless of how irrational they’re being, whatever they’re feeling is real. Standing over them and wagging your finger won’t help. Instead, meet them on the same plane and make eye contact.
4. Take deep breaths. This applies to you and your child. It’s easy to lose your cool, but when your child is absolutely hysterical, nothing you say is going to have any impact, even if you say it really, really loud.
5. Narrate the situation. This sounds mind-numbing, but I assure you it works (and not just with toddlers, it’s an effective means of navigating a conflict with children, tweens, teenagers and husbands as well). Tantrums often arise from a frustration that your child cannot explain with words.
If your child trips and falls down, your immediate reaction might be to tell them that they’re ok. But they might not be — they might be frightened or scraped up. Narrate the situation and ask them how they feel: “You tripped and fell on the ground, and it looks like you hit your knee and that scared you. How do you feel now? You look upset.” My hysterical daughter will usually shove her knee to my face as a way to say “please kiss it,” and then shut off the water works and go back to whatever she was doing beforehand.
6. Offer them a hug. This isn’t the easiest thing to do as a parent. When your crazy-eyed child just flung a plastic truck at your face in a nonsensical rage, giving them a tender embrace may not be your first instinct. But it can work. Just the other day, my daughter was freaking out over having to get ready for bed. As home girl started to pull back her arm to hit me, I knelt down in front of her and offered her a hug.Instantly, she melted into my arms for a huge embrace. She had feelings bigger than what her little body could handle and needed me to understand her — and a hug helped.
7. Discover the art of distraction. This technique works particularly well for children between 12 and 24 months. Unfortunately, the older they get, the quicker they start to catch on, so use it while you can.
8. Give them options. All people want to be in control of their world, and toddlers are no different. They are told what to wear, what to eat, where to play, when to sleep…it’s endless. So it’s only natural they want to exert some control over their little world. My daughter has recently decided that sunblock is the devil, so rubbing it on her face has been a battle every morning. I simply tell her that we have to wear sunblock to keep us safe, but she can choose which sunblock we use or if mommy or daddy puts it on her. I don’t overwhelm her with options, just two. For my child it’s more important to have a say than it is to keep up the fight. The end result is still what I need it to be, but if she can help guide us there, it’s usually a smoother journey.
9. Find a calming tool. My daughter’s blankets are usually a quick way to get her to calm herself down. As soon as she has them in her hands, she puts her thumb in her mouth and searches for a shoulder to cuddle into. We also employ a good amount of Daniel Tiger. While I try not to park my child in front of the TV, certain shows have value in helping kids understand their feelings, and Daniel Tiger is like a baby Buddhist. Every day, my daughter sings a Daniel Tiger jingle when she finds herself in a like-situation to something she saw.
10. Let them meltdown. Sometimes, regardless of what you do, a tantrum is just going to happen, in which case, it’s best to just let them ride the wave. Put them down in a place where they can’t hurt themselves and walk away. Without an audience to “perform” for, some kids will pop right up off the floor and move on. Others just need time to process their feelings. e We can all benefit from a good cry every now and then.
This article feature appeared on Well Rounded on July 11, 2017.