Toddler temper tantrums are ROUGH. Us moms, we are superheroes. We have that little sensor that goes off when we can tell it is about to hit the fan with our toddlers.
YOU KNOW WHEN A TANTRUM IS COMING.
You have an inkling when your child is tired, hungry, or over-stimulated and his or her behavior is probably not going to be ideal.
Usually when this happens, you will rearrange your schedule, cancel activities, drive right past the grocery store you were planning to stop at. But what do you do when you know a tantrum is coming and you really need your toddler’s cooperation for a small amount of time?
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Before we get into this thing, let’s set some realistic goals. As moms, we are not going to stop every tantrum (and we shouldn’t). Your child is still going to have the occasional full-blown tantrum and you’re not always going to be able to stop it. There are, however, some key steps you can follow to put the brakes on some toddler temper tantrums.
Keep in mind that what works for one child, doesn’t work for others. Try this four-step method to see if it resonates with your little one!
Step 1: Don’t yell
(Unless there is a safety issue).
It is always important to model the behavior you want your kids to emulate. From your child’s point of view – if Mom handles stressful and upsetting situations by becoming demanding, bossy, rude, and cranky, then I should handle those situations by becoming demanding, bossy, rude, and cranky.
(I completely hear your inner voice saying that this is sometimes easier said than done, and I agree with you.) All we can do is try to be better!
Save your loud voice for dangerous situations only.
If you’re able to do that, your child will really be alarmed when you do actually yell. Then you can be effective in getting their attention in an urgent situation.
Also stress begets stress, so if you are immediately pushed over the edge by your toddler’s behavior, they will likely be pushed over the edge by yours.
Step 2: Don’t even open your mouth immediately
(Unless there is a safety issue).
Every parent has felt the stress of a toddler temper tantrum inevitably creeping up on them at the most inopportune time. In those situations, we tend to want to react very quickly.
We’ve covered that Step 1 is don’t yell. But Step 2 is don’t even say anything at all right away.
Take a break. Hit the pause. Take a breath. Calm yourself. Get your cortisol down.
Your emotional control is leaps and bounds above your toddler’s, and if you can’t keep your cool, how on earth could you ever expect your child to?
Try to remind yourself that you’re the adult here, and you need to keep it together. You have an opportunity to be the strong role model mom who can handle this situation like a boss, or you can show your child that they have the ability to take the reigns from you if they behave a certain way.
You and your toddler can get through this unscathed. Take a breath, remind yourself what’s what, and proceed as calmly as you can.
Step 3: Ask yourself what your toddler’s underlying need is
Is she hungry? Is she tired? Both? Overstimulated? Feeling disconnected?
Formulate a plan to remediate that underlying issue ASAP.
This 4-step method only works for preventing toddler temper tantrums for a limited amount of time. You can buy yourself maybe a half hour or so, but you need to have the end goal of meeting your toddler’s underlying needs (usually food or rest).
I am not telling you it is possible, or even a good idea, to stave off your toddler’s temper tantrum long term.
Step 4: Redirect!
Redirect your child’s attention as quickly as you can.
I like to do this by giving my child a job or a snack.
What job? Any job. Feeling helpful makes children feel better.
Is there a job that you actually need your toddler to do at this exact moment? Probably not. But find something for them to help with.
Can you tell me if you see any lettuce around here? (Even better if you’re standing right next to the lettuce!)
Will you help me find my sunglasses, please? (Even better if they’re on your head)
I forgot what momma’s favorite color is. Can you help me remember?
Hey, do you remember how many brown doggies we saw on the ride here?
Will you find a piece of paper for momma, please?
Really any easy job will do. I ask for things that are near. I ask for him to find things that I know he know’s the location of.
If I am not at home and I can’t employ those options, I will just keep asking questions like the ones above.
This works best when I am fully caffeinated and REALLY able to maintain my calm and ask these questions in a playful or goofy way.
I also keep easy snacks in my purse and diaper bag. Think easy, quick, self-sufficient foods like fruit and nut bars or packages of crackers. I can whip out a snack and get that kid distracted in 1.2 seconds if I need to! Sometimes this is just enough to redirect when the tears start welling up.
Notice: the key here is really distraction. Distraction is paramount to preventing toddler temper tantrums.
I’ve been the well-meaning parent who kneels down to their child’s level and launches into the long-winded explanation of why their behavior is inappropriate, what they can do instead, what the consequences will be if they continue their behavior, why their behavior is upsetting to me, etc. etc.
That sounds really good to our adult ears, but in the moment, a toddler is not going to understand the message. The longer you go on and on about the current situation, the more engrained the tantrum-inducing trigger becomes.
Instead, turn quickly on your heels, and divert, divert, divert in another direction.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have age appropriate talks with toddlers about their behavior. I’m just suggesting it is better done at a time when the child is calm and not on the brink of complete toddler meltdown.
My results have always been better if I wait. This also goes a long way in helping prevent future toddler temper tantrums because it gives the parent an opportunity to clearly set boundaries, expectations, and consequences in advance.
Here’s an example for you:
My toddler is getting hangry, but my infant needs a quick bath and then a nap. Part of being a mom to multiple children is learning to prioritize their needs. Who needs what most and at what time?
Who needs immediate action, and who can wait?
In this situation, even though my toddler probably wants to start acting out because he’s hungry, my infant’s nap, if not addressed, could raise some holy hell on the entire household and everyone in it. So here is what I would do:
Tell my toddler exactly what is going to happen: we are going to give your brother a bath, put him down for a nap, and then eat lunch. Then I would tell him what his job is going to be. “I need your help getting your brother’s bath tub out. Can you help momma get the tub, please?” We do this bath time assistant routine often, so he knows exactly what to do and is thrilled that he has mastered the drill. Then I would ask him to help get the baby’s towel, rinse off his brother, hand me the soap, wash the baby, rinse the baby, hand me the towel, empty and put away the bath tub.
I don’t bark orders or using a demanding tone. I keep my tone pleasant, playful and always say please.
The thing is, I have kept him so busy with small jobs that he has switched his focus from being hangry to being helpful. We get the baby dressed and down for a nap, and then proceed with getting some lunch into my hungry toddler.
After lunch, I will tell my toddler how impressed I am with his behavior.
“I am so proud of you, bud! You were super hungry, and you wanted lunch, but you were so sweet to help momma give brother a bath. I appreciate you!” Followed by hugs, hugs, hugs, kisses.
Let your child know that you noticed they were in a rough place emotionally. Tell them you noticed how well they were able to get through it.
This helps them build confidence in their emotional regulation skills and strengthens their ability to navigate independently through challenging situations. And to a toddler, being hungry and not eating at that exact moment IS a challenging situation to them. It’s all in the perspective.
Keep going, momma. You’ve got this!
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