Temper tantrums are a toddler’s way of expressing emotions. Most toddlers outgrow this aggressive method of communicating dissatisfaction by the age of three or four. The hardest thing for a parent is to stay on top of a tantrum and not give in to make things better. Our list of tens ways to deal with a tantrum will help you survive this battle of the wills.
#1 Stay Calm
Staying calm is not always easy when dealing with a screaming toddler. However, it is a necessity. You do not want to get into a power struggle, as this will only escalate the tantrum. Remember that toddlers love attention – positive or negative. Moreover, if you are tense and angry, your child can tell and this only leads to a bigger tantrum.
#2 Ignore Your Child
Although this can be extremely difficult to do, it is probably one of the most effective methods. When your child throws a tantrum, they are seeking your attention. They want you to meet a perceived need for you to do or give them something. However, since their emotions have taken over, even giving them what they want will not stop the tantrum. Ignoring you child until the tantrum passes gives both of you time to cool off and settle down.
#3 Stop the Tantrum before It Starts
Watch for cues your child uses just before a tantrum starts, and then create a distraction. Since children have short attention spans, switching interest from whatever is threatening the start of a tantrum can prevent the tantrum from ever beginning. Offering a toy, something of interest, or changing location can prevent the meltdown.
#4 Meet the Need Responsible for the Tantrum
If your child in under 2 ½, they only have a vocabulary of about 50 words and lack the ability to link more than two of those words together at a time. Making their needs known is very hard for them to do. My daughter taught her little ones simple signs to indicate what they needed. A few key words, such as more, food, milk, and tired, can help you learn emotional triggers and meet needs before a tantrum starts. You can also teach your toddler to point to what they need.
#5 Give Attention and Hugs
Since tantrums are often a toddler’s way of seeking attention, provide some. Do not say anything, but simply sit down with your toddler and give them a firm hug. Tell them you love them, sing a song, or talk softly to them. If they fight you, let them go, but continue telling them you love them and as soon as they settle down, give them a hug again. Let them know you love them, even if you do not like the way they behaved. They may not understand everything you say, but your tone of voice can convey your feelings. My youngest granddaughter is a master of tantrum throwing. She now knows at seven and even verbalizes that her mom loves her, even when she is “bad” – her words, not my daughter’s. The hug method was responsible for much of her self-awareness.
#6 Use Time Out
As soon as your toddler is old enough to use a timer, have them go into time out when they have a tantrum. You will need to wait until the tantrum stops. Then have a space for your child to sit without distraction. Set the timer for however long the tantrum lasted, within reason. Try not to set the timer for longer than ten minutes. Put the timer where your child can see the minutes tick away. Your toddler will reach the point where they set the timer for themselves. My granddaughter actually gets the timer when her tantrum is over! In addition, her tantrums have gotten much shorter. My son threw tantrums and as soon as he was old enough, he knew he had to go to his room to do so. This did not get him the attention he desired, so he stopped.
#7 Offer Food or a Nap
The two biggest triggers are hunger and being tired. Both cause your child to lose control emotionally very easily. If your child is having meltdowns at the same time each day – before a meal, mid-afternoon, or in the evening, it is possible they are tired or hungry. Provide a snack, a drink, and a place to rest. A comfortable spot and a television show can provide a toddler the ability to rest and revive, possibly preventing a tantrum.
#8 Use Rewards and Incentives
Some situations may be triggers for your toddler’s tantrums. A long time sitting or dinner out may push your toddler’s buttons. Consider waylaying the tantrum by offering a reward – dessert at dinner, a video when you get home – before the event. Reminding them of the upcoming reward may stop a tantrum from happening. Just be sure you do not offer a bribe for stopping the tantrum. Your toddler is smart and may throw a tantrum simply to get the proffered reward.
#9 Pack up and Leave
Public tantrums can be embarrassing. If your toddler throws a tantrum in the market or at a restaurant, the best reaction is to simply pack up and leave. Make this more effective by letting your child know what they are missing. For example, at the market, you could explain, “Since you are throwing a tantrum, we are going home now. That means we will not buy that cereal you like.”
Studies have indicated that the only thing people judge is a parent’s reaction to the tantrum. Stay calm and in control as you pack up and leave, and you will earn the respect of onlookers.
#10 Talk to Your Child after the Tantrum
When your child’s tantrum stops, talk about what happened. A very young child may not be able to understand much more than the fact that you love them. For older children, discuss the tantrum in very simple terms, acknowledging your child’s frustration. Say something like, “You were angry because you wanted something else for lunch. I am sorry you got upset. Now that you are not screaming, let’s see what we can do about this.”
Your goal when dealing with a tantrum is to help your child identify why they are reacting inappropriately and learning to control their behavior. Remember, if one tactic does not work, try another. Your child eventually will learn to communicate and grow out of the perceived need to throw tantrums.