Even after you do your best to create an attitude within your child and structure the environment in your home to prevent tantrums, they still occur. Here’s what to do when the little volcano blows, at home, in public, or at Grandma’s house:
- Don’t take it personally. Normal tantrums are a result of your child’s development and temperament, not your parenting. Tantrums are due to frustration (your toddler is trying a complicated engineering feat, and howls when it goes wrong), so don’t ignore this need for help. Take this tantrum as an opportunity to connect: By helping your child out of a tight spot, you build authority and trust. Offer a helping hand, a comforting “It’s okay,” and direct his efforts toward a more manageable part of the task (for example, you slip the sock halfway onto the foot, and then he can pull it on all the way).
- Verbalize. Children just need to blow off steam. You can help your child by verbalizing for him what he can’t say himself: “You are mad that Mommy won’t let you have candy.”
- Holding therapy. Other times, when they have lost control, they want someone bigger and wiser to take hold of them lovingly and securely take charge. Try: “You’re angry and I’m going to hold you until you get control of yourself because I love you.” Soon the tantrum will fizzle and you will feel your flailing child melt into your arms as if thanking you for rescuing him from himself.
Avoid forceful restraint. If holding makes your child furious and escalates the tantrum, loosen your hold or quit holding. Your child needs support, not anger. (Forcefully holding onto your child when your child needs to release from you is controlling too much.)
The tantrum-throwing child under two will most often need the holding approach. He can’t talk about his problems. Your strong arms in place around him give the message that since he’s out of control you have stepped in to help him hold himself together. You may or may not be heard, but you can speak softly near his ear with reassuring phrases like “Mama’s here. I’ll help you. Show me what you need,” and so on. Don’t coddle and don’t allow his kicks and flails to hurt you. If you can’t contain him and he hurts you, calmly put him down next to you and stay as close as you can without letting him hurt you. When to hold the child and when to just be on stand-by is a tantrum-by-tantrum call.
- Time-out the tantrum. If neither ignoring the tantrum nor comforting it seems appropriate, remove the child from the triggering circumstance and call for a time-out. For example, if your child throws a tantrum in the supermarket, calmly pick him up and head for the car.
For tantrums at grandma’s house (often the ones that embarrass parents the most because it is in the presence of their own parents and in-laws that they feel the most scrutinized), it helps if you are able to share your tantrum strategy ahead of time so Grandma knows not to sabotage your approach, and also so she knows you really are in charge of her grandchild and she can just relax and watch you parent. It might be similar to what she did when she was a mom, or it might be very different. But it will help your perspective on things if she says to you something like, “He’s just like his dad. I had lots of days like this, and we both survived.” Then you can both share a laugh and you may get to hear some wisdom from one who’s been there.