How to Handle Toddler Tantrums

Temper tantrums with your kid can sometimes really give you a hard time. On days, you might even question your parenting skills, but it is just a normal part of toddlerhood. You would have never thought that your then so cute little newborn would be capable of behaving like the way you see other toddlers behaving. Then comes a day when the tantrum faucet is switched on and that's when it all begins.

Initially, you might be overwhelmed with the behaviour, trying to find ways of handling the toddler tantrums. Although some tantrums might make you hold your laugh, most of them aren't your favourite part of parenting.

To know the temper tantrums meaning and how you can handle them smartly, keep reading below.

What Causes Temper Tantrums?

Toddler tantrums are a result of kids not getting what they want. The roots of tantrums start growing when your toddler of age between one and two tries communicating a need, whether for more milk, a diaper change, or a toy, but is not able to do so through his language skills. When you don't respond to what your kid is saying, it makes him frustrated, leading him to throw a fit.

If your toddler is older, say between three and four years old, temper tantrums may be more of a power struggle. By this age, your toddler has grown more autonomous and is aware of his needs and wants. So, if you don't comply, you have a whole tantrum city in front of you.

Once your toddler reaches preschool, he has developed some language skills and can finally use words to express what he needs or wants. However, it doesn't mean that his tantrums are over. As your toddler is still learning to handle different emotions, even a small disagreement can quickly turn into a full-on fit. Also, your child has begun valuing his growing independence, so needing your help can be a little frustrating. He may get a little mad when he tries a challenging task like tying shoes and realises, he can't do it alone. This might lead to raging and screaming.

What Triggers Temper Tantrum?

Your child is more prone to tantrums if he is intense, hyperactive, moody or doesn't adapt well to new environments. Usually, tantrums are simply a way of getting out your child's frustration and testing your limits – "Will mommy buy me that toy if I scream really loud?"

Even the smallest of things, like asking your child to take a bath while he's in the middle of watching a favourite cartoon to requesting him to share a favourite toy with a younger sibling, can set him off. Any situation that involves change may spawn a tantrum and if fatigue or hunger is added to the equation, your child's threshold for tolerance reduces, making him more likely to throw a tantrum.

9 Tips to Handle Temper Tantrums

Here are some tips that will help you take care of those temper tantrums:

1. Try to avoid saying "no"

This doesn't mean you give your child whatever he wants. However, try rephrasing your "no" in a positive way as often as possible. For examples: If your child asks for a cookie, try saying, "Right now we're having apples or grapes. Which would you like?" This way, you're still saying no, but you aren't using the actual word "no."

If your toddler is pre-schooler, then he is likely to get more upset to hear the word "no" than whatever it is he isn't getting. It happens because of the "no" he keeps hearing all day long. At this age, he is bound to explore and test boundaries and as a parent, it's your job to show him there is indeed a boundary. Although there's no way around the fact that you have to say no multiple times throughout the day, you can try framing your sentences in a way that it doesn't offend your child. For example, if your child is playing on a surface you are afraid might get scratched up, try saying, "Let’s see how fast your car will drive on the kitchen floor! Let’s try together!"

Basically, if it's possible to rephrase the "no" in a positive way while still maintaining your loving authority, try that first. You'll be surprised to see that you have avoided a meltdown multiple times with this simple manipulation of your words. Avoiding the use of the word "no" often and never saying no - are completely different things. Don't confuse the two! You still need to set boundaries and your kid still has to learn that he won't always get what he wants. But this trick will often help you avoid the tantrum that was brewing.

2. Divert your child's attention from the tantrum

Although this won't work well with your five and six-year-old, it is a great trick that'll work well with a child of age between one and four. It'll help prevent a tantrum as well as to stop a tantrum in its tracks.

Let's say your child has decided to throw a fit for one reason or another. While he isn't looking (and that is important), place something distracting or interesting on the floor where he will easily find it. It needs to be different or out of place enough to capture his attention. For example, a bowl of cotton balls, or three tangerines, or a pot and a wooden spoon, etc. Anything that will surprise him and make him curious.

The trick here is that you cannot be seen when you place it there, and you cannot be looking when he discovers the item you put down, especially if your child is older than five years, who will be more suspicious. Just quietly and quickly set it down and then move on to whatever you were doing to not give any attention to your child throwing a tantrum.

3. Give choices within your pre-approved boundaries

If you know you will have a situation your child will be upset about, frame it like he has a choice. Instead of asking him to leave the playground directly, try asking, "Would you like to leave the playground in two minutes or four minutes?" Another example would be to avoid ordering him to go to bed. Instead ask, "Would you like to do books or pyjamas first tonight?"

During lunch time, which can often be a tricky time for toddlers and pre-schoolers, avoid placing your child's plate in front of him with no discussion. Instead ask, "Would you like apples or grapes for your fruit today?" or maybe, “Would you like to choose your plate and cup, or should I choose for you?"

This way, your child isn't given the power to not leave the playground or go to bed. Also, your child won't have the power to dictate what he will and won't eat or demand something else be made.

4. Give a countdown of things ending

Transitions can be tough for your little one. When something your child enjoys is going to be ending, you can avoid the meltdown by giving a countdown, so it isn't a surprise when it happens. Now obviously this trick will only be effective if your child is older than two and a half years. This is because younger children aren’t super verbal.

If your child is older than two and a half years, end of play dates, time on the playground, playing anywhere, anytime, in any context, reading bedtime stories, watching a show, having any sort of screen time, or bath time can be saddening for him. Avoid suddenly ending the event and telling your child that it's time to go (which is almost totally guaranteed to cause a tantrum). You can say, "Okay honey, you have 15 more minutes to play." When you say this, make eye contact, make sure he hears and acknowledges you.

You can also throw in an extra reminder if your child is three years or older by saying, "Ok honey you have 15 more minutes to play, and are we going to leave with a good attitude or a grumpy attitude?" Then when it is five minutes, give a five-minute warning. Once you do leave, and he does so with a good attitude, make a big deal of it. You can say, "Wow! Thank you for having such a positive attitude when we left!" This trick will make a big difference in how frequently you see tantrums if you use it consistently.

5. Remind your child of rules ahead of time to give him a better chance of success

Give your child a better chance to succeed by reminding him of what you expect of him. If, for example, sharing has been an issue on playdates, you’ll decrease the chance of a meltdown if right before you walk in, you go over your expectations. This needs to be done like so:

Get to an eye level with your child, don't speak from above or from the driver's seat to the back seat. Get down and connect! Remind him that you expect him to share toys with his friends. Next you have a chance to remind him of what to do instead of the impulsive behaviour when he feels upset.

This isn't a negative or punitive talk. You say this with total confidence that your little one will succeed. Smile and finish up the quick reminder by giving a high five and saying, "I know you'll do a great job sharing today!"

This is just an example of something that causes tantrums. The point is, discuss your expectations ahead of time and you are greatly decreasing the odds of a tantrum.

6. Distract with laughter

If you are paying attention and are even halfway cognizant of the fact that your child is nearing the sleepy/hungry/meltdown stage and a tantrum is imminent, act fast and make him laugh. You can't do this once the tantrum begins because that would be giving positive affection and attention during a tantrum, which only reinforces the undesirable behaviour. However, if you see it coming, and you get him to giggle ahead of time, this will often be enough to avoid the incoming meltdown.

7. Reward good behaviour

This one doesn't help in the moment, but it's critical over all to make sure you're rewarding desirable behaviour as often as you possibly can. This doesn't mean giving toys or candy or screen time. And it doesn’t mean bribing.

It means giving your child what he fundamentally craves and needs - affection from you. A high-five, a big smile, a hug, a verbal acknowledgment of what he did that you liked. When your child is being adorable and well-behaved, you are going to actively decrease tantrums by acknowledging that you are happy with the choices he is making in the moment.

8. While in progress, don't give any attention

This is another one that in the moment, won't prevent a tantrum and it won't immediately bring it to a grinding halt either. However, if you do this consistently it will reduce the overall frequency and length of tantrums. Here's what you do:

Nothing. Don’t do anything! You literally step over the screaming child and keep doing whatever you were doing before. Email your cousin, fold laundry, ask your spouse how things went when he was at his dentist, etc. Give absolutely no emotional attention to the screaming child. Unless your screaming child is doing something to physically put himself in danger of course. But that is a different level of throwing a fit.

Your child may throw regular tantrums like running of the mill, screaming loud, kicking feet, crying, snot bubbles happening, throwing himself dramatically on the floor, standing at your legs, jumping up and down, or stamping his feet. Don't get upset and frustrated with him. You can just be present, let him feel upset, and wait for him to calm down. Stay calm, indifferent, neutral and ignore the tantrum.

The more you talk, try to use reason and logic, the worse the tantrum gets. There is simply no reason to be talking during a tantrum, with hardly an exception.

9. Make sure your child gets the night-time sleep and naps he needs

There's a correlation between your child getting enough sleep and his behaviour. You'll be surprised to see a positive shift in your child's behaviour after sleep training him using the 'Back to Basics Parenting' method.

When to see a doctor

Not getting enough sleep at night and napping well during the day is much more likely to make your child to throw a fit. If you notice that your child isn't sleeping well or is not getting enough sleep, you can visit a sleep consultant who can walk you through the steps to get your child on a healthy sleep schedule.

Moreover, if your child's temper tantrums are becoming more frequent and haven't stopped by around the age of four, or your child is in danger of hurting him or others, it's best to seek help from your child's doctor.

The Bottom Line

Sometimes children get so overwhelmed with their new independence that they get overstimulated and melt down. Remember, tantrums are not a sign of bad parenting; they're an essential part of your child's developmental stage. Through tantrums your child will learn to deal with his negative emotions.

Also, make sure to praise your child for getting it right. If you notice that he stays calm in a situation that would normally have triggered a tantrum, tell him that he did a good job of controlling his temper. Even when you discipline your baby, be sure to let him know that you love him no matter what. Positive comments will help boost his self-esteem.

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