It was easy to handle toddler tantrums. It was the simplest, most obvious thing on the planet… when I wasn’t a mom.
I hate to admit that I used to steal glances at that toddler screaming on the floor at the supermarket while her exasperated parents did a plethora of things to tame their child.
It’s less obvious how to manage a tantrum when you’re on this side of that picture.
And less relaxing.
And less easy. Much less easy.
Now when I see a toddler throwing a tantrum we exchange an “I-feel-you-I-believe-in-you-you’re-the-best-parent-ever” look and go back to our own toddlers.
We as parents are perfecting our parenting skills all the time, and after several… ahem… personality displays of our toddler, we have managed to make them less frequent, and less intense. (If you want to see some of the crazy, desperate stuff we’ve made to try to calm our toddler down, you can scroll to the end of the article… not proud of them!)
Here are the 7 things we do to handle toddler tantrums!
#1 Repeat this Mantra Before You Handle Toddler Tantrums
“I love this tiny little person.”
Close your eyes. Breathe. Repeat.
I won’t ever forget a mom at a gas stop who was with her 3-year-old daughter, and the mom really wanted to go to the bathroom.
She had her legs crossed and everything. Her look was pleading for help from the heavens!
But the daughter refused to go in with her. She screamed and thrashed, and simply denied joining her mother. The mother was literally trying to not pee in her pants while convincing her girl to go to the bathroom with her.
Quite understandably, she didn’t want to leave her in the gas store with strangers.
You see, there is one (just one) obvious thing that this mom was showing that day and that all parents need to keep in mind during a toddler tantrum: We love our children more than anything. We would pee in our pants before leaving them at the store with kind strangers. Even though they are screaming their lungs off at the time.
So, before you start your routine to handle toddler tantrums, take a deep breath, visualize the first time you ever saw your baby, and repeat:
“That screaming little monster is the love of my life”
And then, it’s showtime!
#2 Set the Example
If your toddler is crying his lungs out demanding that you give in to his requests, odds are, you are bubbling with frustration, anger, sadness, self-questioning of your parenting skills, and all kinds of unkind emotions.
Toddlers have a way of pulling our strings that’s effective and devastating. That’s one of the reasons why dealing with toddler tantrums is no easy task.
But don’t show it. Don’t break the calming, relaxing mask that you need to put on. Set the example of what handling one’s emotions should look like.
Think about it, the logical part of our brain fully develops when we are 25. We have been through several stressful situations by now. We know how to talk. And yet, sometimes, even we lose it!
Imagine how toddlers may feel. They don’t have the same tools we do, so they are overcome with this huge frustration because they really wanted that cookie.
And they don’t know what to do with that emotion. They don’t understand why they can’t eat the cookie, they don’t know how to express how much they want it, and they don’t know how to calm themselves.
So they are going to do what every toddler does. They will look up to you. And learn from your example.
If you give in to your emotions, you’re showing your toddler that emotions can’t be controlled. But if you remain calm, your child will start to understand that they are overreacting. And maybe the next tantrum won’t be huge.
This is, of course, easier said than done. I don’t know the first adult who hasn’t screamed during a tantrum at least one time. So don’t punish yourself if you lose your cool occasionally, just try not to make it a habit.
#3 Show Empathy (Acknowledge your Child’s Emotions)
Toddler tantrums are emotional explosions.
And we, as humans, all need those closest to us to acknowledge our emotions.
If your toddler is screaming, and he keeps hearing that he must calm down, he will be even more unreasonable. Odds are your child may think that you really, really didn’t understand why he absolutely needs to not sit in his car seat.
So, a better solution is to make your toddler understand that you do know. You know that she really wanted to swim in the pool mid-winter. You get it. You won’t allow it, but you get it.
I would suggest going further and setting an expectation. Try saying something like:
“You are really angry, I’m seeing that you really want to swim now. But it’s too cold. We will come back when it’s warmer so that you can swim”
“I understand that you really want a cookie. You’re so upset! But I really need you to eat your vegetables. You can have a cookie after we have lunch”
#4 Hug your Toddler and Take Deep, Exaggerated Breaths
When we hug people who love us, a hormone called oxytocin is released in our bodies. This hormone is responsible for reducing stress levels, lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety, and leveling your breathing pattern.
This is why hugging can have a magical calming effect.
One thing you can try is hugging your toddler and breathing in an exaggerated manner so that she imitates the pattern and breathes herself.
This works for us every time without fail. We don’t give in to our son’s tantrums, but we do hug him and breathe deeply. We say “Inhale, Exhale.” And eventually, he calms down.
#5 Offer your Toddler a Calm Down Jar
We love playing with calm-down jars! And we have a specific one we use when we need to handle toddler tantrums.
They are fun and mesmerizing, and our toddler has learned to recognize them as a way to channel his anger.
Lime Adventures has a great article on making Lego Calm Down jars, which are the ones that have worked best for us. You can read all about it here.
When your toddler can’t seem to control emotions, try this method.
Our Calm Down Jar is green because…
#6 Use Colors to Teach About Emotions at Every Possible Opportunity
We believe in teaching our son emotions through colors. It has worked great.
A child may not understand that he’s angry. But it gets easier if there’s a color he can pair up with his feelings. So at home, when he’s angry, we reinforce that he’s feeling red.
We use a book called The Color Monster for this. And we have even purchased toy stuffed monsters. When Ollie is super angry, we bring the book, the red monster, and the green monster, and then some surreal dialog occurs:
“You’re feeling angry right now, so you’re super red! Try hugging the calming green monster, he’ll help you become green!”
And then, we offer him the green monster (or, the green Calm Down Jar.)
This works with consistency, so when don’t use the colors only to handle temper tantrums. We use it all the time.
Yes. All the freaking time.
When he wakes up happy, we place the yellow monster and teach him that’s what happiness looks like. If he’s missing mommy or daddy… it’s time for the blue monster! If he’s playing calmly, we use the green monster, and when he’s scared, we use the black monster.
We carry the book everywhere.
Yes. Freaking everywhere!
But it works! He loves his monsters and he’s slowly making the connection. We are starting to hear things like “I’m red” “I’m green.”
I know… surreal! But if you want to handle toddler tantrums, you need to teach your toddler to handle his emotions… or try to.
#7 Take Advantage of The Calm After the Storm
When everything has calmed down a bit, your toddler looks more like your adorable child and less like a tiny lion. Don’t forget to talk things through.
Do it as close to the tantrum as possible, but don’t do it if your toddler is still screaming. She won’t listen.
Explain why her behavior was exaggerated, explain how to calm down a bit, and do some breathing exercises.
Little by little, the rackets will be less frequent and less intense, and you’ll be able to handle toddler tantrums all the better.
That’s a Wrap
I try. As we all do.
I’m not perfect. I’m not trying to be. I’ve done some pretty messy stuff when I’m completely desperate because of my son’s behavior.
Here are some shameful examples:
- I’ve left him to cry alone with the door closed in his room. (A big no-no!)
- I’ve taken his binky and buried it in the pasta because he didn’t want pasta. He wanted his binky. I wanted him to eat pasta. (Much to my family’s and the restaurant’s amusement, who were all laughing while I shed tears of frustration)… It didn’t work at all… what a shock!
- I’ve put him in the bathtub, fully clothed, and turned on the shower. I so regret this. I’ll regret it forever. But it was summer, so I hope he wasn’t cold. Needless to say, he hates the bathtub now… yay mama…
- I’ve tried to sit him in a chair facing the wall to think, which resulted in him crying harder.
- I’ve cried with him.
- I’ve left him with my husband to deal with while I go get some wine.
Yup. Not proud of any of it. But I’m just human!
My son is fine, and he loves me deeply, and most of the time I go to my “Handle Toddler Tantrums” list and I’m the most collected person on earth. But, once in a while, I get desperate.
What about you? Have you done anything crazy during a temper tantrum? What’s your secret to keeping your child’s emotions in check? Let me know in the comment section!
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