The other day I really wanted a donut. I was desperate for it. Nothing else mattered in my mind except for my mission for fat and sugar Nothing could stand in my way. Except for my Mum. My damn mean Mum. Even though I asked for it at the top of my lungs, the acceptable way I thought, she said no. Instead, she handed me a banana. A BANANA. I did not want that! Yuck! So I did what anyone would do. I threw myself to the ground and beat my fists against the floor. This did not work either, so I upped the ante. I started screaming and crying, really pushed out the tears. But she still wasn’t giving in. My donut mission had failed. My life was over. Nothing will ever matter again.
Ahh toddler tantrums. As welcome as your period on your wedding day. Or any day really.
There will come a day in every parent’s life, when their sweet little angel will turn around and have a completely over the top reaction to a seemingly small occurrence. It could be leaving the playground before they are ready to go. Putting their shoes on.The wrong coloured cup. The most inconsequential thing can set them off.
Your toddler’s tantrums may embarrass you. Annoy you. Fluster you. Maybe even slightly scare you. Any parent who tells you their child has never had a tantrum is lying. And it’s a huge learning curve on how to deal with them. After all, we never think our perfect child will one day take off their mask to reveal a tiny monster.
I want to offer you some words of encouragement and share some insight from the multitude of resources I have trialled and errored in my quest to deal with toddler tantrums. Some may work for you. Others may have your child laughing in your face. But anything is worth a try if you are at your whits end on how to persevere.
Here are your six steps to handling toddler tantrums.
- Plan ahead and listen to your instincts
If I know ahead of time that my toddler is in a particularly cranky mood, I reevaluate my plans. I ask myself if it really important that I leave the house on a particular errand, or take him on a certain activity. I try to follow my instincts.
I learnt my lesson this week, when I took him to his music class when I already knew he was tired and cranky. I thought it would be okay, but we had to leave halfway when he threw a spectacular tantrum, because he wanted the piggy and not the unicorn. I wish I had listened to my instincts on not taking him, as much as I wanted to leave the house. Although it is not always possible to plan ahead, because life (or shit) happens. So you can also try and prepare as much as possible by deploying rest, snacks and favourite books/toys/music.
What is the phrase?
Prior planning prevents piss poor performance.
Or in this case, prior planning prevents powerful public petulance.
- Ask Questions
Tantrums in toddlers are normally a result of not being able to adequately express feelings in the way that adults can. Ask yourself what external factors may be causing this outburst of emotion?
I once again learnt this the hard way, where I blamed a sudden onset of tantrums on teething and growing pains. But when a rash popped up and I took him to the doctor, turns out that my toddler had a viral infection all along. It can be difficult to ask your child questions if they are very little, so instead ask yourself what may be causing the tantrum. Are they hungry? Thirsty? Cold? Hot? Sick? Teething? Bored? An external factor could very well be the cause.
- Keep calm. Sing it out. Try time out.
This is as much for me as it is for my son. He picks up on my emotions like no other, so when I feel a tantrum coming on, I find if i speak in a softer voice and start singing some of his favourite songs, it can calm the situation. SOMETIMES. Especially songs he associates with sleep or makes him laugh. It is a powerful distraction. It helps me too I must admit. Although I am sure I look or sound maniac to anyone watching on.
If calm singing does not work, I have found the age old strategy of time out to be useful in calming the situation. With my son I make him sit with me on floor and I count to ten on my fingers. He generally cries through this so it could take a few goes to reach ten. After we get to ten successfully with him sitting still, I always ask for a cuddle and for him to say sorry Mummy. End on a positive note. I can’t believe this works, but it does. SOMETIMES.
- Don’t give in whatever you do
If my toddler throws a tantrum because he did not get his way, I really try not to give in. I am not harsh about it, I try to remain calm and reasonable, but if I take a toy away because it is not his, and he throws a tantrum, I do not give the toy back. I reason as much as I can with an eighteen month old. I understand he is testing the boundaries right now, so I am trying to establish these boundaries and I do not want to confuse him by saying something is okay one day, and is not okay the next. Try to remain consistent. This may not stop this particular tantrum. But it could have a great impact later down the track.
- Talk About it
It can be hard to discuss tantrums, as you don’t want to feel judged by other mothers. Especially those mothers who claim that their perfect child has never had a tantrum (bullshit). But by asking those closest to you about their experiences, you may be surprised to hear their empathy and reaction. Just feeling like you are not the only one, especially from mothers you respect and love, goes a long way to understanding that you are not a ‘bad’ mother and maybe they have some advice for you that could help.
- Seek Professional Help
There is absolutely no shame in asking for help. There are some incredible strategies and resources out there that will go a long way in helping you raise happy and well adjusted little people. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with your or your toddler. When you are a first time Mum, it is just about help figuring shit out.
Queensland has some amazing FREE programs funded by the government called https://www.triplep-parenting.net.au/qld-uken/triple-p/ You can attend a seminar or do an online tutorial all about dealing with tantrums with positive parenting.
Positive parenting is all about promoting the wellbeing and development of children by building strong relationships and having good communication, which will help children develop skills they need to succeed in life.
Some of the positive parenting strategies to deal with tantrums, and stop them happening in the first place include:
- Have a safe and interesting environment. Keep children busy and stimulated. Go outside and do what they enjoy. Children have so much excess energy to burn. Make home safe so you are not always saying no.
- Create a positive learning environment by being available when they approach you. Stop what you’re doing and spend time with them if they approach you, even if its a few minutes. It is making them feel secure. Pay attention and praise good behaviour.
- Practice assertive discipline. Be consistent, react quickly and deal with the behaviour calmly. Children learn to accept limits and develop self control and learn ways to respect others. It is a process, just persist. It won’t happen overnight.
- Set realistic expectations. Children are all individuals, don’t expect too much. No child is well behaved all the time. They need to be developmentally ready to master new skills, so be reasonable with what you expect. Ask yourself if they are even capable of doing what you expect.
- Take care of yourself. Parenting is easier when our own needs are being met. We all need a break to be patient, consistent and available.
- Encourage behaviour you like and do not practice accidental reward. Accidental rewards is when children get what they want by misbehaving and giving attention to bad behaviour.
Other professional resources that have come highly recommended by other Mumma’s include:
- Janet Lansbury. Her books and videos are a respectful guide to parenting
- Raising Children Network has some amazing articles and resources on tantrums, such as this article.
- 123 Magic
- Circle of Security
I hope that some of what you have read helps. Remember Mumma, we have all been there and you are doing a GREAT job. Our little angels just like to test us. And when in doubt, there is wine. Or chocolate. Or both.
Did you want to read more about coping with life as a Mum? Read my blog about ‘The Mum Mantra which keeps me sane’.
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