Toddler temper tantrums are ROUGH. Us moms, we are superheroes. We have that little sensor that goes off when we can tell the shit 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 most toddler temper tantrums.
DO NOT yell.
(Unless there is a safety issue). Remember: it is always important to model the behavior you want your kids to adapt to. From your child’s point of view – if Momma 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. Save your yelling voice for dangerous situations only so your child has a firm understanding to stop what they are doing immediately when you raise your voice. 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 of yours.
DO NOT freak out.
Every parent has felt the stress of a toddler temper tantrum inevitably creeping up on them at the most inopportune time. 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? Remember: 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 calmly.
DO ask yourself what your toddler’s underlying need is.
Is she hungry? Is she tired? Both? Formulate a plan to remediate that underlying issue ASAP. This 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.
DEFINITELY give your child a job.
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.
Notice: the key here is really distraction. Distraction is paramount to preventing toddler temper tantrums. I’ve seen well-meaning parents kneel down to their child and launch 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 it is upsetting to the parent, etc. etc. That sounds really good to our adult ears, but in the moment, a two-year-old 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.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have age appropriate talks with your toddler about their behavior. I’m 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 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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