How to deal with a toddler tantrum

The toddler tantrum is something we all dread and fear. They can strike right in the middle of a busy supermarket. Or when you’re with friends, trying to seem as though everything is under control with your toddler then BAM. The TT erupts as if from nowhere like a volcano.

I can clearly remember my first experience of dealing with a TT. I was 22 years old. Living in the Moscow suburbs, taking care of a little two year old boy. One day we went to the local swimming pool and he loved it. Splashing about and having such fun. When it was time to leave he was quite ok about it. However, on the way home, he decided he wanted to go back to the pool again. He suddenly ran off. I chased him. I caught him. He cried and screamed and kicked like a child possessed. Right in the middle of the street. As people stared I wondered if they thought I might be kidnaping him. I tried to talk to him. Explain that we needed to go home for lunch and we could come back another day. There was no reasoning with him. In the end, I remember it took over 30 minutes to walk the 10 minute walk back home with silly distraction games interspersed with bouts of crying, cuddling and consoling until we eventually made it home for lunch.

Looking back, not only is it a wonder I didn’t consider another profession as that was only the beginning of many tough experiences I willingly subjected myself to over the years but hindsight makes me think, did I deal with that situation to help him as best I could?

So here’s my thoughts about TTs.

Once a baby reaches toddlerhood, let’s say from around 18 months old, there’s no getting away from the fact there’s going to be some melt downs. While it is simply their way of expressing themselves the only way they know how, it can be upsetting, difficult and sometimes downright embarrassing having to deal with one!

There seems to be two types of TT. The first one is what I call an authentic tantrum. This is where the toddler is in a genuine state of distress. They might be dealing with big feelings which can be hard for them to process and understand. Triggers can be things like frustration, tiredness, hunger, boredom or illness so watch out for these. Try to maintain a routine and not delay a nap or meal time too much. Always keep snacks handy just in case. Ensure they get plenty of time to run about and burn their energy off. Even if it’s a rainy or cold day, I’ll happily wrap them up warm with wellies and let them splash in puddles and run about. Take a ball. A scooter. Arrange a playdate so they can socialise and have fun. Stick on some music and dance about with them.

A TT can mean they are feeling anger and loss – perhaps for having to share a treasured toy or having to leave the park when they are happy playing. While it may seem unimportant to an adult, to a small child, it’s a big deal! A toddler doesn’t always have the vocabulary to express what they need or are feeling. They also can lack the understanding of what might be happening for them. They do not yet have your wisdom of experience to know they will feel better soon.

When they throw themselves on the floor with an oscar-like winning performance including possible crying/shouting/screaming/kicking, that’s when we need to be doubly sure that space is ‘toddler proof’. If you’re at home, or someones home, that’s not just about making sure medicines are safely locked away or the stair gate is up to prevent a fall – it’s about making sure there’s no sharp or dangerous items they could hurt themselves on. Clear the floor so they can roll around freely. Let them know you are there, that they are safe and it will pass. The more calm and in control you are, the better. When they see you relaxed, it can help them feel the same. Reacting in a cross way to their tantrum could make it worse.

Don’t leave them to just get on with it. They need comfort and understanding. Respecting and acknowledging their feelings is important; ‘that must make you feel sad when Jake took your toy’. I certainly don’t think you should ever discipline a child if they are experiencing this sort of tantrum. Lots of cuddles and easy explanations usually help.

Getting dressed is a really common trigger for a tantrum so offering a simple choice of ‘the green or red jumper’ can help them feel in control and allow them to make as choice. Often this works for different scenarios as well such as mealtimes, toys to play with etc.

The number one tactic in the run up or the beginning of a TT is distraction. A silly game, singing a song or bring out a favourite toy are all great ways to take their mind off what they were so upset by in the first place. Though once a TT is in full swing, that can be too late and sometimes it’s best to just go with the flow for that one!

Anyone remember the advert for First Defence? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOW7f6cjA14 Yep. That’s what I’m talking about. This type of tantrum is what I’d call a drama tantrum. When your little darling throws this sort of tantrum, they have learnt that if they behave this way, they can try to get what they want, be it sweets, juice, a sibling’s unsuitable toy etc. This is the sort where as long as they are safe, I would distract, stay firm and if needs be, ignore! The more attention and fuss they get from this sort of TT, the more likely they are to keep on doing it as they quickly learn they get what they want. Don’t give in!

Remember through all these amazing months, trying times and TT episodes, the old Chinese proverb –

万事开头难

wàn shì kāi tóu nán

things are difficult before they are easy

Have fun 🙂

Until next time x

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