12 Ways to Tame a Temper Tantrum
If you’re reading this now you’ve likely reached a rite of passage, the tantrum stage. Some kids start as early as 12-15 months, but almost every one of them joins in before their second birthday. But take heart, millions of moms and dads have lived to tell about it. Here’s what parents who’ve seen it all recommend.
Hug and hold
For some kids, especially those just entering the tantrum phase, these outbursts are actually scary. Losing control of their emotions can be rough on little guys, and sometimes they just need support. As tricky as it can be, holding a sobbing, squirming toddler on your lap until his breath comes back can be just what he needs.
Keep them company
Along those lines, some kids just need to know they’re not alone. That’s why some parents just choose to stand close by, offering reassurance. “I try very hard not to get triggered when Sabina starts to lose rationality,” explains Molly, mother of two. “It’s important to me that she knows that I’ll stay with her even when she wants to push me away. ”
Countdown to calm
When our toddler first started having tantrums one of my favorite tactics was simply counting. I held her in my arms, or held her hands, and counted to 20 calmly and slowly. My words and rhythm distracted her, plus my soothing voice reminded her that she wasn’t alone. This, like many toddler taming techniques, worked well but not forever. Then it was on to the next thing, which some parents swear by…
Let her be
Tantrums are a normal, healthy part of life for toddlers. Not fun, but normal. So sometimes it’s OK to just let her roll around on the floor and get it out of her system. She’s reacting to her changing mind, a growing sense of independence and lots of strong new emotions coming into play. If she gets overwhelmed, and she will sooner or later, it doesn’t make you a bad mom to let her ride it out. Stay nearby, but don’t try to pick her up or calm her down. Just let things run their course.
Keep your cool
Oh, it’s aggravating, but the best way to smooth over a meltdown is to avoid having one yourself, even on a small scale. Resist the urge to yell back, yank anyone by the arm, or any other version of losing your mind. Remember, this will pass. It might take 20 minutes, but it’ll pass.
Take it outside
If you’re in a public place — cue the grocery store meltdown when your little guy doesn’t get to unload the cart “by myself”– you might need to take him outside until he calms down. Once he bounces back to his normal self, which will happen suddenly but only after what seems like an endless amount of time, explain that you brought him outside because he was screaming. You love him but it’s not OK to scream in the store.
Make 'em laugh
“I think all children react to different techniques, but my girls have responded consistently to a burst of silliness,” says Carrie, mother of two. “It seems to surprise them and they forget what they were upset about. I generally don’t reward bad behavior, but disciplining during a meltdown never seems to work.”
Resist temptation: Don't give in
This is particularly important for older toddlers and preschoolers. If you start caving in to unreasonable requests (an ice cream cone before lunch, bringing 27 stuffed animals to the park, wearing sandals in the snow, etc.) to avoid a meltdown, your child is going to connect the dots. They’ll realize that screams plus tears equals whatever they want. This is not what you want, so hold your ground. Kids actually need your guidance and limitations to feel safe. The teddy bear collection won’t get lonely at home, no matter what your toddler says.
Spread the love
“In terms of prevention,” says Molly, “I try to do regular ‘Special Time’ sessions with Sabina. She’s in charge and gets to choose what we do, and I give her my undivided and loving attention. In general, good play and laughing are important, and I try to plan ahead with our schedule because having to rush to do things is stress-inducing for everyone.”
Find ways to let them win
“Tantrums are about control. As in, kids have none,” says Tami, mother of one toddler and one pre-schooler. “So when I can, I offer a choice. ‘Would you like to wear the pink sweater or the blue sweater?’ That kind of thing. Another way to dodge tantrums is to let them win when the stakes are low. It actually has the opposite effect than most people would guess; it makes them less likely to fight me on the things that matter.”
Talk about it
Afterward, when everyone is calm, ask why your little one was screaming. What made her upset? Explain that there are lots of ways for her to show she’s angry, frustrated or tired, and none of them involve screaming. Suggest a few phrases to use instead. “Mommy, I need help” is a new favorite at our house. Yes, it’s usually preceded by a frustrated whine, but still, I’ll take a whine over a tantrum any day.
Watch the tension in your house
Here’s the thing, it’s hard to raise little kids and still have enough time to devote to a strong relationship with your partner. But toddlers pick up on bad vibes, and that uncertainty provokes more tantrums. If you notice an uptick in fit-throwing at home, do something that seems unrelated: Plan a date night. Spending quality time with your spouse is one of the best ways to promote peace. Your child will sense the calm in the air. And, bonus, you get a night off from dinner duty. Everybody wins.