We have arrived. The “terrible two’s”, which I have endearingly renamed the “CHALLENGING Two’s” are here in full effect. Full-body, flailing meltdowns smack dab in the middle of the kitchen floor (or even better…the grocery store); screams so loud that the neighbors can hear; and surprise smack attacks by precious little hands. My sweet little girl is still sweet…most of the time…but some days our schedule feels like we are simply making it from one melt down to another. Is this normal? Do I have an overly emotional bully on my hands?
Thankfully, I know enough to know that my two-year old’s tantrums are simply because she’s a toddler. Her language skills are limited (which can be incredibly frustrating for her), her coping skills and understanding of patience are even more limited, and her needs are great. I remind myself that this is just a season of time that were passing through (I will survive), but how I respond is of paramount importance for her understanding of discipline, boundaries, and healthy ways to express her emotions.
My mantra…”Baby may be losing it, but momma has to keep it together.” This may seem like a no-brainer, but in the middle of a toddler tantrum, I often feel my own emotions spiraling out of control. What am I to do with this tiny maniac and my rising frustration??? Here are a few tips proven to work by countless mothers before us. Try one. Try five. Try them all!
1. Keep Your Cool
Having your own melt-down is only going to make matters worse. Your little one is either tired, hungry, frustrated, not getting their way, in need of attention, or just having a tantrum for the sake of it. Yelling, screaming, and dealing with your child in a physically forceful way will only escalate the situation. It will also reinforce for your child that outbursts are an appropriate way to deal with anger and frustration. “If mommy does it then it’s okay that I’m doing it too.” NO! You need to set the standard for appropriate behavior. Your toddler is learning how to deal with his/her emotions. By demonstrating healthy ways to deal with frustration you set the standard and lay a great foundation. Take several deep breaths and let the frustration roll off of your shoulders. Keep your voice soothing and calm. You can still be firm but loving at the same time. If you feel like you are going to lose it and your child is in a safe place, remove yourself from the situation for a few moments until your emotions are under control. It’s also okay to ask for help. If you’re having a more than challenging day with your toddler, give yourself a reprieve. Go to the gym, and let your toddler play in the gym daycare; ask your partner to give you a break while you take a bath, get a pedicure, or simply sit in a quiet room for five minutes; phone a mommy friend and see if she would be willing to give you a 30 minute break.
2. Smile at Your Audience
Why do tantrums always seem to happen in public? So embarrassing for every parent! The funny thing is, anyone watching who has kids isn’t judging you or your crazy child. Nope, they’re empathizing and remembering their own challenging toddler years, and they’re watching to see how you’re going to react. If you forcefully grab your child, yank her from the floor or start screaming yourself…well, then yes, you are going to be judged. If you keep your cool, maintain a calm voice, and handle the situation like an adult (assuming we all have the same standard of appropriate adult behavior) even if your child is still screaming your audience is going to think you’ve got it handled. Mom of the year award coming your way! You can flash them an, “I’m not liking this challenging situation, but I can handle it” smile and wait for an empathetic smile back at ya.
3. Ignore the Tantrum
Sometimes ignoring a tantrum is the best and quickest way to get it to stop. It’s fine to acknowledge that your child is upset and to affirm their feelings, but clearly their screams and kicks are not an appropriate way to show their frustration. Instead of giving their fit more attention that it needs, simply ignore it. If your child isn’t getting the desired reaction (and extra negative attention) from you they are more likely to stop the fit sooner.
4. Change the Scenery
Leaving the house, exiting the grocery store, or even taking a parking lot break during dinner at a restaurant may be necessary if your little one has a tantrum that just won’t stop. A change of scenery can often diffuse a tantrum and it lets your little one know that if they can’t behave they are going to be removed from the party. Although it’s not convenient to leave the grocery store without any groceries, sometimes it may be necessary. If you say you’re going to leave…FOLLOW THROUGH. Be consistent and let your toddler know that when you say something you mean it.
While this method doesn’t work for all children, it does wonders in my household. My two-year old’s emotions are easily redirected when I start to make a goofy face, sing a silly song, pull out a crazy toy that she hasn’t seen in forever, or start to tell her an AMAZING story. Yep, this momma pulls out all the bells and whistles. All of my elementary school acting classes were worth while after all. BE ANIMATED. ENTERTAIN. BE SILLY. MAKE YOUR LITTLE ONE LAUGH SO HARD THAT HE FORGETS ALL ABOUT THE TANTRUM. Toddler attention spans are short. Use it to your benefit! Food can also be a great distraction. Don’t bribe with candy, but offer your toddler a delicious, healthy snack. Everyone always feels happier with a full tummy.
6. Affirm with words and physical affection (POSITIVE CONSEQUENCES)
Some toddlers act out because they want the extra attention. When your child is upset sometimes giving them a hug will do the trick. Tell them how much you love them and praise them for their great behavior that day. Do this even when your little one isn’t having a melt-down. Providing consistent positive reinforcement will improve their sense of security, confidence, and understanding of what behavior will get them the most attention…GOOD BEHAVIOR! Praise your little ones. Encourage them. Let them know when they have been kind and gentle. Reward them…don’t just punish them. The majority of the attention that you give your child should be positive. If you are only pointing out when they are “bad” they will continue to be “bad” just for the attention. I’m not saying to let naughty behavior slide! We are all about discipline around here, but make sure your discipline is done in love rather than anger and that you aren’t forgetting to reward your little one’s positive efforts. FYI: Some children detest physical contact during a tantrum. They may lash out even more. If that’s the case with your child…skip on the hug and try a different method. Many children aren’t in the mood for logical reasoning during a tantrum either. Don’t try to explain to them why they shouldn’t be having a tantrum…this method never helps. Instead try one of the other methods such as distraction.
7. Meet the Need but Don’t Cave In
Often times tantrums occur because children are hungry, thirsty, tired, or frustrated. If you are in the middle of the grocery store at 12 noon and your toddler hasn’t had lunch yet, you better believe they are going to want everything in sight! Of course they want the cookies. Don’t you? Instead of quickly diffusing the tantrum by giving into the cookies, hold your ground. If you said, “No,” to cookies. Then your “NO,” needs to stay “NO.” Giving in during or after a tantrum will only reinforce for your toddler that tantrums are an effective method to get their way. ABSOLUTELY NOT! If your child is starting to melt-down over cookies, give him a reasonable alternative that will curb his hunger. A piece of fruit or an organic fruit and veggie squeeze pack are much better options. Get him involved in a positive way by letting him choose which of these healthy choices he would like.
8. Prevent it before it happens-expectations and bribery
Anticipating your child’s needs is a great way to prevent tantrums before they even start. If you know you are going to be out during snack time…take a snack with you! If you know you are going to be cutting into nap time prepare yourself for a cranky child. Don’t expect your 2-year-old to behave perfectly when you are changing their routine or jipping them on sleep and food. Try to stick to their schedule as much as possible. This will save you many a melt-down. If circumstances don’t allow you to follow your little one’s schedule, let them know ahead of time what your expectations are and what’s in it for them. For example, if your family is coming into town for a special anniversary dinner (way past your little one’s bedtime), let your little one know that they will get a special prize if they behave well at dinner. Remind them of this when they start to act up at the table. This form of bribery is really just a form of positive reinforcement for good behavior. Since you are doing it ahead of time and not in the moment it isn’t a harmful trick. I recently told my daughter that if she had gentle hands at preschool she would get to pick several extra books to read at bedtime. On several occasions the teacher had to remind her, but this prevented hair pulling and shoving like a charm. Even though we had a few incidents later in the day while at home, I didn’t take her extra books away from her (I gave her different consequences instead) because she had earned them with good behavior.
9. Use Reasonable Punishments
Use reasonable punishments. Your child is a toddler after-all. She is learning limits. Never hit/smack/bite your child back! This only reinforces for her that these behaviors are acceptable. It’s a good idea to give her some warning before you flat-out punish her. This gives her time to change her behavior and obey. Let her know that if you count to three and she isn’t listening then she will have a consequence. If she is doing something to physically harm another child then deal with the situation immediately! Don’t wait for a three count!
Use time-outs to your advantage. Giving yourself a 2 minute breather may be what you need too to effectively deal with your little one. Remember not to make time-outs too long. Rule of thumb is one minute for every year of age. Example: a 2-year-old should only have a 2 minute time out.
Taking away privileges is one of my favorite methods to nip a tantrum. If my daughter refuses to get into the car seat and starts flailing I simply tell her that she won’t get to play with her favorite toy when we get home if she doesn’t sit nicely by the time that I count to three. This doesn’t always work, but often times the threat alone is enough to get her seated. Often times she doesn’t end up losing the privilege because she quickly realizes I mean business and she doesn’t want to lose her doll!
Try these tips and let me know what works for you! If you have additional suggestions I would love to hear them. Parenting is a learning curve for all of us. We can all use all the help we can get! Remember…the toddler years are just as season. They don’t last forever!
For more helpful insight check out the links below:
Essential Tips for Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers
The Mayo Clinic on Toddler Tantrums
Healthy Kid Tips on Dealing with Tantrums