The toddler years are called the terrible twos for a reason. My daughter expanded this part of development through her fourth year. Toddlers are trying to figure everything out and their brains have not reached the point where they can weigh rational thought, so hunger, pain, fatigue, frustration, and the emotions produced by those things produce some horrific tantrums.
Tantrums are not personal, and your child is not trying to wreck your world, but he is dealing with an inability to express himself, and a tantrum is usually because he is feeling overwhelmed and doesn’t know how to deal with it.
So what causes tantrums? Each child is different, so keep a journal that details what was happening when your child had one. Here are a few common causes.
The child doesn’t want to do something.
The child wants something.
The child is overstimulated. We call it sensory overload.
If a child is hungry or tired.
If a child is frustrated or seeking attention.
What can you do when a tantrum begins? Here are a few ideas for things to do and to avoid doing.
Don’t meet a tantrum with a tantrum. Your child wants to know you are in control, and when he sees you lose control, that feeling of safety slips.
Don’t try to reason with the child. Think about when you are upset and frustrated. You don’t respond well when someone tells you to calm down.
Don’t bribe the child to stop or give in to a demand. This sends a bad message that will make things worse later.
Take a breath and reset before reacting.
Validate the child’s feelings because those feelings are real to him.
Be clear that feelings are okay, but there are limits to behavior. Be clear and consistent about behavior.
Offer choices on how to calm down.
If you think it’s for attention, try ignoring them. (Make sure they are safe though)
If you are in public, leave. I had a full cart of groceries when my daughter dropped to the floor and started pounding her fists and kicking her feet. Everyone was looking at me as if Family Services should be called immediately. I scooped her up, left the cart behind, and headed home. It’s easier to respond calmly when you don’t have an audience.
Be patient and praise them when the behavior is good. My grandson had just done something we did not want him to do. I told him not to do it, and when he stopped I thanked him. My daughter looked at me and said, “You are so much calmer with him than I am.” Lol, and it only took me three children and one grandchild to be able to do that!
I want you to consider something. What if you look at tantrums as a way to connect with your child? He is feeling out of control, but he sees you being calm, allowing him to feel the emotions, understanding why he is having them, and being a loving presence ready for a hug. What a great opportunity to strengthen the bond.
Here are a few things to do to stop a tantrum before it begins.
Make sure they are fed and rested.
Teach them coping skills to help them calm down. Do this when they are calm, not in the middle of a tantrum. These could include listening to music, playing with a pet, looking at books, playing games, or playing outside.
Maintain a routine.
Give yourself grace if you have had a meltdown once or twice. If it happens, apologize to the toddler. You are showing him that adults make mistakes too. Managing tantrums is not easy, but they will pass, so keep soaking up your time with the little ones.