Taming Toddler Tantrums
My 18-month-old son throws terrible toddler tantrums. When he doesn’t want to do something, he often throws himself on the floor and kicks his arms and legs. I can barely bring myself to take him out in public because he throws tantrums so often. What can I do?
Most toddlers throw temper tantrums. It’s a typical stage of child development. To understand why your toddler throws a fit, put yourself in his place. A toddler has an intense desire to do things. However, his mental and motor skills have developed more quickly than his ability to communicate. Because he doesn’t yet have the verbal skills to express his frustration, he does so by throwing tantrums. But you should know that toddler tantrums often come in two flavors: manipulative tantrums and frustration tantrums.
Know the Different kinds of Tantrums
If you feel that your child is using tantrums as a tool to get his own way, give him verbal cues, and use body language that says you don’t do tantrums. Be aware that toddlers know how to push their parents’ buttons. If you are a volatile person, it’ll be easy for your child to trigger an explosion from you, ending in a screaming match with no winners. You send a clear message when you ignore his fits or walk away. This teaches him that tantrums are not acceptable. This is part of toddler discipline.
Frustration toddler tantrums, on the other hand, require empathy. Take these emotional outbursts as an opportunity to bond with your child. Offer a helping hand, a comforting “it’s okay.” Help him out where he feels frustrated at not being able to accomplish a task. This way, you establish your authority and build your child’s trust. Direct his efforts toward a more manageable part of a task. For example, if he throws one of the common “I’ll do it myself” fits about putting on his sock, you slip it halfway onto the foot, and he can pull it on the rest of the way. Sit down with him at eye level and caringly say, “Tell mommy what you want.” That encourages him to use words or body language to communicate his feelings and needs so that he doesn’t have to act them out in displays of anger.
Identify the Trigger
Toddler tantrums are usually at the worse time for parents: when they are on the phone, at the supermarket, or busy in some other way. Think about it. The very circumstances that make a tantrum inconvenient for you are what set your toddler up for an outburst. Keep a tantrum diary, noting what incites your child. Is she bored, tired, sick, hungry, or overstimulated? Watch for pre-tantrum signs. If you notice a few moments before the flare-up that your baby is starting to whine or grumble, intervene before the little volcano erupts.
Don’t Take it Personally
You are neither responsible for his toddler tantrums nor for stopping them. The “goodness” of your baby is not a reflection on your parenting ability. Tantrums are common when a baby starts to strive for independence.
Stay Cool During Toddler Tantrums
Toddler tantrums in public places are embarrassing, often making it difficult to consider a child’s feelings. Your first thought is more likely to be, “what will people think of me as a parent?” If you feel trapped and embarrassed when your child is throwing a fit in a supermarket, don’t lash out. She is already out of control and needs you to stay in control. Just calmly carry her (even if she’s kicking and screaming) to a private place, like the bathroom or your car, where she can blow off steam, after which you can quietly settle her down.
Plan Ahead for Toddler Tantrums
To expect a curious toddler to be the model of obedience in a supermarket when he is tired and hungry is an unrealistic expectation. Shop when you both are rested and fed, and let him be your helper from the safety of his belted shopping-cart seat. The morning is usually the best time for toddler behavior; in the afternoon, he’s more likely to be tired and hungry.
Biggies and Smallies
To help parents gain perspective on the toddler tantrums stage, we’ve divided fits into “biggies” and “smallies.” Staying in the car seat is a biggie. It is non-negotiable, and all the theatrics in the world will not free the safely-contained protester. But whether she should wear a red shirt rather than a blue one is a smallie. A clothing mismatch isn’t worth a fight.
Occasionally, a very strong-willed child will lose control of himself during toddler tantrums. It often helps to simply hold him firmly, but lovingly, and say, “You’re angry, and you have lost control. I’m holding you because I love you.” You may find that after a minute or more of struggle, he melts in your arms as if to thank you for rescuing him from himself.
In general, don’t ignore frustration tantrums. Turning away from her behavioral problems deprives her of a valuable support resource, while you lose the chance to improve your rapport with your tantrumer. Once your toddler develops the language skills to express her needs in words, you’ll be able to close the book on the tantrum stage. This usually happens between two and two-and-a-half-years-of-age, depending on your child’s language development.
For more info on this topic, see The Discipline Book: How to Have a Better-Behaved Child From Birth to Age Ten