I’m sure all of you amazing mommies have perfectly behaved little angels that never push you buttons or make you want to throw a tantrum yourselves….
But if you happen to be a mother of a tantrum throwing wee one I salute you! My first little girl was fairly easy tempered and I foolishly thought her lack of tantrums was due to my incredible mothering skills. (You can laugh, its okay).
My second daughter is a whole different breed! She has done it all, screaming, thrashing, hitting her head on the wall, pulling hair, screeching…the list goes on. She is currently one month shy of 2 years old, and this has been going on for over 5 months. I was a bit baffled because I was still in my illusion of being a kick-butt mom, but all my tricks were completely useless with this tantrum ninja. I think God just needed to humble me and help me realize that each child is a unique little surprise that every parent needs to have a new set of tools for.
So how do you handle a toddler tantrum?
First, remember that your child’s tantrums are completely normal and age appropriate. For some reason that helps me. Tantrums seem so wrong and ridiculous and confusing and stupid. The knowledge that it is a completely normal and acceptable stage of development just like crawling and talking helps me take a deep breath and calm myself.
What makes these tantrums normal? Our sweet little monsters have developed a great desire to be independent. They have mentally and physically developed so much, they are so eager to use their new skills. The problem is mostly communication. They know that they desperately need a stick of string cheese, and that that cheese MUST be offered to them still partially in the plastic, and that if said cheese is removed from the plastic it is tainted and no longer edible. If they could simply say, “Hey mom would you leave the plastic on please?” The whole cheese-apocalypse could be avoided. But they can’t tell us what they need, so we are left with a screaming, thrashing toddler and a completely baffled mother.
Here is the key, we need to recognize, is our child throwing a fit out of frustration or out of a desire to get his or her way?
If your sweetie is throwing a tantrum to get her way, then your job is to show them that it is unacceptable. There are a few ways to do this.
- You can ignore the crazy screaming creature. This is especially easy to do at home. If you are like me, even the screaming can be enough to make you want to give in…or show the creature who is boss. RESIST WOMAN! Just walk away. You can explain to the crazy creature, “Mommy can tell you are angry, that you can’t have candy for breakfast. Come find me when you are done being loud and we’ll make you a bagel.” Then, ignore all the craziness.
- You can remove your child from you. This one I use a lot because my darling likes to follow me around screaming her woes. I tell her, “I know you are mad. You can finish being mad on the couch (in her room or in her crib. Wherever I feel is safely away from me.) I know this sounds a lot like time out, but I honestly use it to keep my sanity and respect my daughters need to throw a fit. When a fit gets out of control I use this technique on both my almost 2 year old and my 4 year old. I tell them they can have a cool down in another room because I don’t want to listen to the fit.
Your goal, with this type of tantrum, is to teach your child that you are not swayed by his or her behavior. If your child throws a giant fit about getting his way, and then you give in just to stop the madness, you are teaching your child that their bad behavior works. The biggest problem with this is then they will continue to try tantrums because they sometimes work. Be strong, don’t give in, remove you or your child if you feel an adult tantrum coming your way! It doesn’t make your day much easier but you are shortening this tantrum-throwing-stage when you stand your ground.
What other tantrum is there? A tantrum thrown out of frustration is a whole different story. This type of tantrum is thrown because our children can’t handle all their emotions or the situation. These type of tantrums require empathy. So when little man is trying to build the worlds greatest lego tower and it keeps falling don’t use the separation technique when the growling and screaming erupt.
- First you try to give a name to the emotion they are feeling. “Bud it looks like you are feeling frustrated. Does your tower keep falling over? Ooo, that is so frustrating.” Your child isn’t born knowing what anger, sadness or frustration feels like. They just know they don’t have control over the situation or even their own feelings. It’s easy to see why they would be frustrated.
- Next, try to give options on how your child, and maybe you, could fix the problem. “Maybe we could try building your tower on the hard floor, or maybe we could add some legos so it doesn’t fall? Do you want mom to help you?” This shows your child you care about helping him/her. It shows you care about their feelings and you understand.
- You may have to redirect. Sometimes our sweeties can’t go back to the same activity right away; their emotions are too strong. This is a perfect time to redirect your child to a different activity. “Hey do you want to pull the legos apart and throw them into the bucket?” or maybe, ” Why don’t you come with mom and we’ll get you some water.”
Your goal with this type of tantrum is to show your little love that you understand their big emotions and you want to help. Sometimes you can’t help much. Just remain available for loves or assistance. This is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your child. Sometimes it is hard to have compassion on a tiny lunatic screaming bloody murder because they can’t get their shoe off, while laying on their back and flailing their feet. Just remind yourself that their craziness is about too many emotions with no ability to communicate. Your role as their parent is to guide them through that moment.
Other tips on tantrums:
- Pick your battles
- I often avoid triggering a tantrum. I know that when my munchkin requests a tutu, she is ready to battle for it. It is worth it just to put the scratchy, large tutu on and avoid the battle completely. In our house, when it comes to safety, I battle. Decide which battles you don’t want to fight and which ones you do.
- Along with this you may want to avoid certain situations for a time. With both of my girls I had to take a couple months off from our library visits. There is no shame in avoiding aspects of your normal routine because of a tiny tyrant..okay, sometimes I feel a little ashamed, but I feel sane so it’s all worth it.
- Plan ahead
- It is completely unrealistic to expect our children to stay calm and behaved in any situation you yourself might feel a bit impatient. Waiting for your dinner at a restaurant or in line at the grocery store. Avoid these type of situations when your toddler is tired or hungry. If you are going to participate in one of the many situations that might result in a scream fest bring a little something to help redirect a frustrated toddler. With my girls it is usually stickers, a small tub of play dough, a favorite stuffed animal and of course a dumdum sucker!
- Keep your cool
- Remember it isn’t about you. Your munchkin isn’t trying to make you slowly lose your mind. They aren’t testing you to see when you will explode. Their fit doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. Keep your cool. Losing your temper will only make the scene worse! When I feel my cool getting hot I often have to remove myself from the craziness. Do what you need to do to remain the adult.
In the end know you are not alone! There are many mommies hiding in their bathrooms with a candy bar while listening to the screams from the other room. Know you are no less of a kick-butt mommy because your sweet wee one happens to express their feelings in a loud, violent and slightly frightening way. Remember that these tantrums are a COMPLETELY normal part of your child’s development. And, know you have some tools to combat these tantrums. I wish you the best of luck. Heaven knows we all need it!