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When the fuse blows
When my oldest son Q was two and he got angry, he really got into a toddler tantrum. He wouldn’t even be able to stand on his feet anymore. At that point, it didn’t matter what we did, we wouldn’t be able to get through to him. There would be no choice but to ride it out.
Last Thursday I gave some quick tips on getting through the terrible twos on a day to day basis. Today, I want to share something about how to get through the notorious toddler tantrums.
1. Stay calm and be consistent
Sometimes (not always, there is nothing that works all the time on any child), staying calm averts the dreaded toddler tantrum. Part of a two-year-old just wants to see what happens. Not consciously, of course, but they do test the boundaries and throwing a tantrum or threatening with one is definitely a good method for doing so. If you stay calm, they’re not getting the response they were looking for and sometimes that means they’ll not continue on the path towards a full blown tantrum.
Even if they do continue on to a tantrum, be consistent. Do not change the rules, do not take back what you said and also do not modify your behavior. Stay calm! I always remind myself that, surely, I have more patience and discipline than my sons. This is also the point where I stop explaining myself. I’ve stated the rules, I’ve included the why, that’s it. Mommy’s done talking.
2. Try diversion
Sometimes staying calm and consistent works: the danger’s been averted. But very often…well, let’s just say nothing’s fool-proof. Once you’ve stated what the rules are, calm and consistently, and you can see the anger building up, try diversion.
Say your toddler wants to go into the sandbox in the back garden, but you’ve just vacuumed. You’ve said no and even explained why. You’re sure you’ve been heard, but you can see that face screwing up and you know what is coming. However, you had ice cream planned for today. This is the time to make an announcement: “How about some ice cream?”
Of course, it doesn’t need to be ice cream, it can be anything you have in mind and you know your child will enjoy. It does NOT mean that you have to spoil your toddler at every turn. It just means that this is a good tactic to do something that you might have done anyway. You’re just adjusting the time WHEN you do it to fit your convenience.
3. Make sure they’re safe
Okay, so here’s the deal: no matter what you do, at some point a toddler tantrum will happen. You’re human, your child is human, it happens. No big deal. Just ride it out and then go from there.
The first thing you need to do is to make sure your child is safe. When he’s on the floor, screaming and thrashing, make sure he can’t hurt himself. Second, also make sure he can’t wreck anything that’s nearby.
So you don’t want him to near a table, because he could bang an arm or even his head into it and you don’t want to have to end up at the doctor’s office. You also don’t want him near a vase or the dog. He could break the vase or hurt the dog.
If the tantrum is happening in an inconvenient place, just pick your toddler up (make sure to keep them away from yourself, you are one of the things that could get hurt…) and put him down somewhere safe. Just lay him down on the floor if he doesn’t want to stand (likely).
4. Let them express themselves
Once they’re in a safe place and they can’t hurt themselves or anyone else, just them go at it. Like I said, you ride it out. If they are in a place where nothing will get through, then don’t even try to get through.
Does talking to them help? No? Then don’t talk. Does punishing them and putting them in the naughty spot help? No? Then don’t.
And really, from my point of view, being angry isn’t the same as being naughty. Naughty is getting in the sandbox after you’ve vetoed that idea. Being angry, or having any kind of emotion, is part of growing up. This is just one more part of growing up that children need to learn to deal with.
5. Just be there
Just be there, but do not engage. Children need to know they are loved under all circumstances and especially when they’re going through something difficult. Though this may sound strange, a tantrum is just as frustrating and difficult for them as it is for us. Perhaps even more so, because children have no way of putting things into context yet.
At the time of their toddler tantrum, to a child, the whole world is a tantrum. Just being there, calm, quiet, present, tells them there is something outside the tantrum.
6. Name emotions
Lastly, but very importantly, after things have calmed down and your tot’s got rid of some of his energy, name the emotion. You were angry. Tell him that what he felt was anger, and that this happened. That it’s okay to express your emotions. That the fact that he didn’t hurt anyone (except for perhaps himself) was very good.
It’s so important for children to learn to name their emotions. One of the reasons most of us adults don’t lie down and start thrashing when we’re angry, is because we can name the emotion and explain why we are feeling that way. It’s the first step to resolving the problem.
If a child doesn’t know what it’s feeling, or why, it will never learn to resolve the issue.
To recap dealing with a toddler tantrum
A short recap of the steps to survive a toddler tantrum:
- Stay calm and consistent;
- Try diversion;
- Make sure they’re safe;
- Let them express themselves;
- Just be there;
- Name the emotion.
To make things easier, download my Terrible Twos Cheat Sheet and stick it to the fridge. Click below to grab your copy now!
On a final note, I want to repeat that tantrums are normal toddler behavior. At home, in the grocery store, with family, tantrums will happen. What makes them potentially uncomfortable is whether you believe they should be happening and what you believe other people think of you. Know that this is normal.