Tantrums are a normal and healthy part of life with a toddler but that doesn’t mean that boundary testing won’t send you bonkers! Remember that all children want to express emotions and feel understood, and your job is to respond rather than react.
Clear communication can minimise the risk of a meltdown; pre-empt environments, situations and circumstances that are likely culprits and explain beforehand what the expected and acceptable behavior is. If, for example, supermarket check-out sweets always cause a public outburst, try explaining to your child beforehand that they wont be having any till treats, however, if they behave they can have a reward chart sticker when you get home.
Distracting your child by actively involving them in situations can help. This may require you to summon more energy than you feel a trip to the chemist warrants but by bringing your toddler into the trip, rather than expecting them to remain passive and pliant observers, you may make life easier in the long run. Ask them to hold the shopping list or put items in the basket for example.
If the worst does happen and you find yourself in the midst of a meltdown wait, for your toddler to peak, their safety and your sanity is of primary importance, and it is hard to reason with a distressed toddler. Let them get the bulk of their tantrum out of their system and remember that despite appearances to the contrary they seek your love and support. Ask them to communicate clearly what the problem is and explain that you cannot understand or help them when they get so upset.
Tantrum types & tonics
Tantrum types require different tonics; ‘the fake fuss’ tantrum is usually just hot air and a pretty blatant attempt at getting an object of desire. Ignore it and the wind often leaves the stroppy sails pretty quickly.
The ‘situation strop’ requires a calm consistency to ensure you don’t elevate the unwanted behavior by responding to it.
A ‘muddled meltdown’ prompted by a change in circumstance warrants help and assistance. Acknowledge what underlying factors could be impacting internally and work to ease the worry.
Communication is crucial for prolonged periods of calm but wobbles will happen and when they do try to respond rather than react, view them as learning opportunities. Consider the variables that help or hinder your child’s mood; are they tired or hungry or consuming too much sugar? Are they worried about something or bored?
Remember that you can implement boundaries positively and discipline with respect and validation; shouting back can often exacerbate a volatile situation. When athletes refer to a ‘disciplined training schedule’ they mean commitment and consistency and the same skills apply to raising children.
Be alert to the possibility that some tantrums may result from unrealistic demands of the parents as well as those of the child. Do you have age appropriate expectations of your toddler? Are you allowing them the freedom to express themselves in a healthy, heard fashion? Controlling children too closely limits their ability to think for themselves and makes it hard to learn who they are and what they want.