By Sabrina Schlesinger
We’ve all been there…standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, leaving the playground, bed time, or just after you ordered your food at the restaurant. The lip protrudes, their body goes limp, they fall to the floor, their face gets red, they take a deep breath and let out the most ungodly sound that sends chills up your spine. Yep, you know what I’m talking about…TODDLER TANTRUMS!!!
They can happen in an instant…like an earthquake without warning. All of a sudden you go into survival mode. Your focus turns to finding a way to get out of the public so you can suffer with the screams of your toddler in privacy.
I’m here to help! Keep on reading to discover 5 ways to stop tantrums with your toddler.
After having four kids, all who are past the toddler stage, I learned rather quickly that babies don’t come with instructions! Some of these things we learned the hard way, through trial and error, others we gleaned from those who had gone before us and had experienced success.
5 WAYS TO STOP TODDLER TANTRUMS:
#1 - Stay Calm
Have you ever watched the show, The Dog Whisperer? If not, I will break it down for you. The premise of the show is Cesar, the “Dog Whisperer” goes to different homes where people have out of control animals. Throughout the entire show, one theme remains the same, the dogs aren’t the problem, the pet owners and the way they are raising their pet is.
I imagine if there was a Toddler Whisperer, and he came into my home 10 years ago, he would have said the same.
I had an out-of-control toddler. For over a year we just stopped going to restaurants because the fits were so gigantic and we didn’t know how to handle them. Tantrums had officially taken over our life and this cute little toddler was calling all of the shots. Something had to change…and the first thing to change was me.
I seemed to take offense to my child when they threw a fit. I let them get to me…big time! Rather than me responding with self-control, I often reacted with frustration and yelling of my own. I was even dubbed “crazy mom” during this time. I remember one time sitting in the car as one of my kids was having a meltdown and I lost it. Like embarrassingly lost it. I started screaming at the top of my lungs. There I was, telling them to stop their tantrum while throwing a fit of my own!!
Have you ever heard the statement, “You reap what you sow”? It’s true. As I disciplined in anger and threw my mom tantrums, I discovered they never once made the situation better. I was getting back from them exactly what I was giving to them.
I began making some major adjustments in my responses. If I needed a time out, I took it so I could effectively parent and coach my children when they were struggling with their emotions. I chose to not take their fits personally. They weren’t out to “get me”, they were simply little humans who needed my help to process.
So stay calm mama. Take a deep breath, send up a prayer of help to God, and respond to your kids rather than react. It will make a huge difference.
Now I know what you are thinking. Kids are going to throw fits regardless of whether or not you stay calm, and you are right…they will. But they are taking their cues from us on how to handle frustrating situations. So show them the right way to respond when you don’t get your way.
#2 - Pre-call the meltdown
I have heard it said that the opportunity to become offended is when our unspoken expectations are not met. Guess what…little 3 year olds experience the same thing!
I have made it a habit anytime we go somewhere to pre-call the meltdown. This looks like explaining to them before going into Target that they won’t be getting any candy or toys on this trip, to 30 minutes before bed-time coaching them that the time is approaching and that you expect good decisions from them.
Of course this is absolutely no guarantee, but I have found more often than not I am able to head off a potential disaster because my kids knew what to expect going into the restaurant, store, play date, etc.
#3 - Don’t ignore them
So many people say to just ignore the tantrum when it is happening, but for most cases I just don’t agree…and here is why.
Our toddlers are learning how to communicate. And when they are 2, 3 and 4 years old, their vocabulary isn’t as big as their brains yet. Tantrums are often their way of expressing disappointment, anger, embarrassment and fears. When we simply ignore them and let them work it out on their own, are we really helping them process through their emotions? I don’t think so.
What if instead of ignoring them, we helped them! What if we pulled out a sheet of paper, or had an image on our phone that had images to help them identify what they are feeling in their hearts? What if instead of ignoring them, we took the time to seek to understand why they are throwing a fit. Isn’t that what you and I desire? To be understood? To be heard? To be validated?
I know not every time they throw fits you will have the opportunity to do this, but if you started taking 5-15 minutes at home with them when the meltdowns occur to teach and train them how to rightly respond to disappointment or inconvenience, then when they are in public settings, they will start to have the techniques to handle their strong feelings that normally send them into a meltdown.
I have had discussions with my kids when they are angry that goes something like this, “I know you wanted to stay and play longer, and I can see that you are very disappointed that we have to leave now. I understand why you would feel that way. I get disappointed too when I don’t get my way and when I am having lots of fun. Can you use your big boy/girl words to let me know how you are feeling instead of screaming? Mommy doesn’t hear your screaming, but I do hear your words! You can tell me, ‘Mommy, I am mad that we have to leave.’” What I am doing here is acknowledging their disappointment, validating their feelings (even if I disagree), and then giving them the words to say instead of screaming.
This doesn’t just teach them how to process their feelings, but will help your kids immensely to handle conflict resolution as they grow older. And that is such an important skillset to have on their tool belt.
#4 - Keep it private
As much as you can, correct and discipline your little ones in private. Our tendency is to correct them right then and there. But by taking a minute to get alone (or as alone as you can be), it will give you a second to get yourself under control ,as well as show your child that you love and respect them.
No one likes to be embarrassed.
When one of our kids continued to scream like she was being burned alive at the stakes while we were having dinner at a restaurant, I excused myself and my child from the table. I picked them up, held them close, and walked to the restrooms or outside until they calmed down. I think one time my husband and I traded off about 12 different times at one sitting. It was exhausting. We knew she was testing us and for her sake, we had to win the battle.
You may have other kids in the family. If you can help it (and not all the time you can), avoid disciplining them in front of their siblings. Even though they may be acting like a crazy person, show them the respect they aren’t having for themselves or you at the moment.
#5 - Give them a time limit
At the end of the day, we all process at different speeds. When I learned this, it helped me out so much! It was like I all of sudden had a light go on that allowed me to give my kids permission to have a moment.
Sometimes, with all of our best efforts, they still break down. So when those moments happen, here is what I do. I let them know, “If you are going to scream, then you have to go and scream into a pillow, because no one wants to hear it.” I also give them a time limit. I will tell them, “You have five minutes to get this fit out of you, and when the buzzer goes off, you are going to change your attitude or there will be consequences.”
I found when they were given a time limit, they got over it much quicker, especially with consequences on the table. I just had to be sure to follow through with the consequences if they continued. :)
Bottom line…tantrums may never go away entirely, but if you will apply these tips, they should decrease less and less over time.
Your kids may be used to reacting now…it is their default response, so it is going to have to be UNLEANRED and REPLACED with a different default. This simply takes time, discipline, and consistency. But our kids are worth that effort.
If we put the hard work in while they are young, we will reap the benefits as they grow older!
Love + Blessings,
Sabrina is a mother to three girls and one boy. She is a also a pastors wife, freelance graphic designer and mom coach! She resides in beautiful San Diego where the sun shines every day. She prefers chai lattes over coffee, mac-&-cheese over vegetables and staying in over going out. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook!