Help understand your child’s big emotions when dealing with toddler tantrums. Enable yourself to handle tantrums confidently and calmly and be a calm and centered anchor for your child’s needs. Discover the tricks and tools to help prevent toddler tantrums from occurring in the first place.
As a Mother of three (including twin toddlers!) I’ve been dealing with toddler tantrums for some time! When I first began experiencing them I’ll admit they had me overwhelmed and a little freaked out. Why did they often happen in public? What will people think? Am I a bad mother? Until I got a hold of myself and got real, toddler tantrums are simply part motherhood. Especially if you have a wonderfully spirited child on your hands. I started researching dealing with toddler tantrums frantically! I delved into all the different books on the subject that resonated with my style of parenting. This helped me see tantrums from my child’s perspective, I realised they were not happening to me – but for me.
Understanding your toddlers emotional capabilities.
Children don’t actually develop much self-control until 3.5 to 4 years of age. Once you realise this, dealing with toddler tantrums becomes much easier. Even then they still need a lot of guidance managing their emotions and impulses. To help understand your toddlers tantrums, you first need to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine being told when to get up and when to sleep. What you are going to wear, that you have to put on a coat and shoes and leave the house right now! Imagine being immersed in an activity only to be taken instantly away from it and plonked at your dinner table to be told you were hungry. Now you have broccoli and pasta in front of you but you don’t want to eat that, you wanted fish. How would it feel walking around at a lower level than everyone else all day, not being able to reach out and touch certain things you wanted to? Would you like to be told no 235 times a day? Would you feel cross if your partner turned off Netflix half way through your favorite show and told you to go to bed?
This is often how life feels for a toddler, a constant power struggle. When you put yourself into their shoes, it becomes easier to understand why these tantrums occur in the first place. They are a very normal part of childhood. Our job is to help our toddlers to feel a little more sense of control and security over their world. To be their emotional anchor, to help “bring the home” when their emotions become overwhelming.
“I feel it’s worth noting here that adults absolutely have tantrums too! They just manifest in different ways. If you don’t believe me, go look through your Facebook feed….”
Prevention is better than cure.
As normal a part of life dealing with toddler tantrums are, it’s natural to want to keep them to a minimum. We all want our children to be calm and happy individuals, and tantrums can often cause us to run late and generally lose control over certain aspects of our busy days. It’s key to help your toddler feel as though they have control over their own life and choices. Toddlers also like to know whats going on (just as we do). They want a calm and uncluttered peaceful happy environment to exist in in order to thrive. There a a few simple tricks and tools to keep in mind when you are trying to prevent toddler tantrums from happening in the first place.
You are the anchor and inspiration.
Children are like sponges, and much like we still do as adults – they soak up the energy around them. Mum’s can often set the tone for the household without even realising. Have you ever noticed how your kids seem more cranky when you’re low on energy and need things to be running smoothly? That’s often because they pick up on and emulate your general vibe. Everything starts with you, so if your needs are not being met somewhere – step back and try and reevaluate things. Do you need more help? Is your home disorganised? Is your sleep suffering? Address issues that need looking at in order to help get yourself in the best frame of mind.
Sleep is everything!
Tantrums are far more likely to occur when your toddler is tired. If they are happening on the regular, take a step back and look at their sleep patterns. Are they working? Do you need to nap them slightly earlier to reduce bedtime battles? Are they going to bed too late? Are they waking up frequently? A good sleep routine is one of the keys in dealing with toddler tantrums more effectively.
We just went through a big anxiety / tantrum issue with one of our two year old twins. It was all centered around a sudden separation anxiety and fear of the dark, which in turn created a multitude of tantrums due to being so exhausted! Once we helped her work through her fears and anxiety I realised I was rushing nap and bedtime and letting them sleep in too long in the morning. Once I started a more consistent routine and started the processes a little earlier to avoid that “rushed” feeling, it helped her hugely.
Try and stick to a routine that works for everyone.
Toddler’s especially like to know what’s coming next. It pays to have a regular routine that works for your lifestyle. This can help them feel more secure which is helpful when trying to reduce tantrums. If they are feeling hungry for example but know they always sit down for a snack before their nap and they know nap time is fast approaching, this will help them feel comforted knowing they have that to soon look forward to.
If you are going off routine for the day, such as a big family event or a hospital visit – prep them in advance. Get them excited, even if it’s something you are dreading like a trip to the dentist! Look for things that your child may find exciting and new and play on them; “oh wow you get to have a fun ride in the dentist chair today! We might even get a sticker etc etc!” Discuss them a few times in the days leading up so they know what’s coming. Just think how you might feel if you thought you were about to have lunch and someone drove you to an eye test instead and you had no idea it was happening. You may feel quite unsettled!
Don’t overlook diet.
If toddler tantrums are a regular in your house, it is worthwhile checking in with your child’s diet. Not just for the obvious things such as excess sugar and E numbers which can of course affect your child’s moods. A diet with insufficient amounts of key nutrients may also play a part, such as iron, vitamin D and essential fatty acids. So try and make diet one of the key focuses when dealing with toddler tantrums. It may even be beneficial to start a food diary to better understand any potential triggers. This can also allow you to take a closer look to ensure nothing major is being overlooked, such as how a low iron intake might be causing them to feel tired and cranky come mid afternoon.
Check the labels on what you buy, if you can’t understand what half the ingredients are it’s better to give it a miss. Opt for low sugar more wholesome snack foods where possible, such as Nakd bars, oat cakes and fruit. A few chocolate buttons won’t hurt anyone obviously (in my opinion!) but it pays to be mindful of the sugar and additive content of certain foods as some children can be very sensitive to such things.
Ditch the clutter!
Have you noticed how cranky you can feel when you kitchen is overloaded with appliances and dirty dishes? Or how it’s harder to relax at bedtime if your bedroom space is cluttered and messy? Well, children are no different. I’m not suggesting that you start cleaning 24 hours a day, but maybe it’s time to have a good look through all the toys your child owns and how things are set out in their bedroom. Do they need everything they have? Could things be streamlined and excess things donated? Could you invest in a few labels and storage tubs so the toys you do have are easier to navigate? If I never went through what we have and periodically de-cluttered, our house would be unlivable. Every time my children go somewhere they seem to return with something else to find a home for, it can make your space feel overwhelming.
Make a conscious decision to commit to clearing out unnecessary clutter. Start small if the idea leaves you feeling jittery! I try and maintain a one in one out policy; if my son buys a new tshirt I’ll go through his wardrobe and see which ones hes grown out of and donate. Same goes for books and toys, you can even get kids involved in this too. Plus the less you have the less you have to tidy. Win win!
Countdowns and Timers.
This is especially good for younger children, and I’ve found this technique has helped somewhat in reducing the amount of tantrums in my twins. As I’ve mentioned previously, toddlers like to know whats coming next. If you pull them away from something they are immersed in without any warning they are bound to get a little cranky. By setting out clear countdowns it can help them regain a little more control as they know whats coming next.
E.g; “Ok, we can listen to two more songs then we have to turn the TV off and get in our pajamas.”
“We can have 2 more goes on the slide then its time to leave the park.”
“We can have 5 more minutes playing in the garden, but then we have to go inside and wash our hands ready for tea”. Etc etc, Some people find timers useful for this also – “Ok, when the timer goes off in 3 minutes it’s time to let the bath water out and dry off….. “
Try this simple technique for a day and see if it helps to reduce your toddlers tantrums.
Always offer a choice.
When dealing with toddler tantrums, handing over a little power to them is key. This technique was a real game changer for me. Remember toddlers have little control over their own life. We tell them what to do and what not to do and when to do it pretty much all day, this can be hugely frustrating for any child. Frustration breeds tantrums. To help your child regain more of a sense of control over their day to day, the trick is to offer choices regularly throughout the day. Try offering two options, both of which are OK with you!
For example if your toddler starts crazing you for a cookie right before their dinner, instead of an outright “No, you can’t have one now you’ll spoil your dinner!”
Try; “Mmm yes those cookies are yummy. I don’t want you having one before tea though, shall we pick which plate you’d like for it to have afterwards”? Or; “A cookie might spoil our dinner, lets have one later. If you are super hungry now you can have a few grapes or piece of cheese.”
Try making them an active part in the decision making of their day, for example;
- Getting them to pick out a part of their outfit or coat.
- Picking between two breakfast or snack options.
- Picking a story for bedtime.
- Picking which park you visit.
- Go for a little walk and get the to choose some of the way.
- Get them to pick out their dinner plates and cups.
Tips for dealing with tantrums with ease when they occur.
With the best will in the world, it’s completely natural and normal to run into the occasional tantrum. Toddlers are sensitive beings and sometimes life just gets too overwhelming for them and they just need to let off some steam. Instead of thinking of a tantrum as your child working against you, think of a tantrum as a way of them trying to communicate some emotions they can’t quite explain.
So how can you deal? Let’s imagine you are in the supermarket, your three year old is cranky and upset because they have seen something they want, which you don’t want to buy. You are running late, have a baby strapped to your chest and you didn’t sleep well last night. Your three year old throws themself to the floor and starts to let rip. People are beginning to stare and you can feel yourself start to get flustered. You just want this whole expedition to be over so you can get home, have a much needed cup of coffee and feed your baby. Before you ditch the trolley and run, try these simple approaches first;
- Anchor yourself first. Take a breath, or three. Feel your feet on the floor, and see this for what it is. A small child fighting overwhelm. Imagine a sense of calm, you are the anchor – you are “unflappable”. (Janet Landsbury talks a lot about becoming “unflappable” and is well worth checking out. Her book pretty much changed my life.) These big emotions cannot effect you.
- Ignore other people. Those people staring at you do not know you, have no idea what your day or even your life has been like. Block them out, their opinions do not matter, you are doing nothing wrong.
- If possible take them to a quieter corner to help them relax, away from the temptation.
- Get down to your toddlers level. This can help them feel seen and focuses your connection, you are saying with your body language -“I am here, I see you, I’m listening.” If they are truly flipping out and won’t be hugged, hold the space and recognise this emotion is probably frightening to them.
- Keep your voice calm but authoritative, don’t shout above them. Try saying; “Mummy can’t understand you when you are shouting, please use a quieter voice so I can help you.”
- Attach an emotion. Tantrums can be confusing to toddlers, attaching an emotion can help them make sense of how they are feeling. For example; “Honey I see you are feeling very angry that we can’t buy the big toy dinosaur today.” In doing this you are giving their emotions validation and making them feel regonised and heard.
- Try and help them focus on their breath. “Let’s take some big breaths to help us feel calmer”, you could try using the technique of making them imagine they are blowing up a balloon, or if outside – “blowing their angry away at the clouds.”
- Offer comfort and hugs. When they are ready, a hug can work wonders.
- Offer a solution or a distraction. ” I understand you are sad as we can’t buy the dinosaur today but that’s not in our budget / on our list. Shall we take a picture to remember where it is and add to our birthday list / save up our pocket money etc”. Or “I saw some yummy snacks on the way in, why don’t we go choose one for the journey home instead.”
- Explain real consequence . “Mummy only has 5 minutes to buy the groceries or we won’t have the right ingredients for our dinner. If we hurry we might have time to go to the park later / watch a movie when we get home.”
- Once your toddler has regained a little calm, offer them a drink or a snack. Chances are they may just be a little Hangry!
- Finish up as quickly as you can, enlist their help if they are wiling: “Daddy really needs bananas, I can’t see them anywhere ! Shout if you spot them.” Then get home for that much needed cup of coffee!
“Tip – if you need to go food shopping with children in tow, prep them a little beforehand. Tell them how quick you need to be. Before you go in let them know they must stay with you and that running and shouting are not allowed in this shop. Give them a little incentive, such as a trip to the park if you get everything done in 15 minutes. Give them a list of 5 things you need to buy and tell them to try and spot them for you. If you are prepared to buy them a treat give them a budget beforehand; “Once mummy has found everything on her list we can pop to the toy isle and spend up to £3 on something you pick!”
(And snacks, don’t ever forget the snacks!)”
I hope these tips help you in preventing and dealing with your toddler tantrums, remember they are completely normal. With the right tools and tricks up your sleeve you can deal with tantrums effectively and calmly. If you found these tips helpful comment your takeaways below.
For further reading I hugely recommend reading:
To help feel more centered in motherhood and fight the overwhelm, check out my blog on dealing with mum guilt here.