In order to understand the tantrums of a toddler, parents need to understand the emotional, behavioral, and linguistic sides of a toddler. First off, although the toddler is always attached to the parent at the hip, his way of declaring independence is by saying “no.” The way a parent and a child behave before, during, and after these tantrums plays a huge role in conflict versus cooperation in their relationship.
A tantrum can occur because of a number of reasons— frustration, hunger, dissatisfaction, or just because it’s the easiest, fastest way to get what they need. The first mistake many parents make is to play into these tantrums and give their child what they want in order to please and calm them. While it may be a quick solution, you’re actually causing a bigger issue long-term. They are learning that this behavior has a positive, gratifying reaction, and this will lead to repeated tantrums with increased intensity.
You may have wondered why your child is a perfect angel with their grandparents or the babysitter, but then explodes on you. This usually occurs because the toddler does not trust these people enough to test their limits. With you, they’ll do something dangerous or difficult knowing you’ll come to the rescue if they get into trouble.
There are five key things you can do to not only survive, but avoid recurrent tantrums:
Let your toddler be independent. Let them roam around the house and explore. Curiosity is a good thing. Think about how you feel when someone tells you that you can’t do something — the more constraints, the more likely to have tantrums. Now, of course, you have to draw the line at dangerous behavior, but some freedom goes a long way. For example, let him roam around the house, but cut off some areas to make sure they are away from the hot stove. Also, remember that there is never a need to yell — that makes it even more alluring, and their curiosity will make them want it more.
Instead try: Swap out yelling or using the word “no” with a fun scoop up, hug, and kiss. By doing this, they’ll start to understand what’s acceptable and what’s not.
This, by far, is the best method to avoid tantrums — but not always the easiest. For example, your child is having a tantrum because he wants the TV remote, you take it away, and it escalates because you removed it. Don’t give in to make him stop.
Instead try: Distract. Redirect. Calm. Distract them by offering a safer, better toy they like or, my personal favorite, start singing a silly song he might enjoy. Toddlers thrive on attention. By staying calm through the tantrum you don’t raise suspicion — so eventually they will not react in that manner because you didn’t either.
Choose your battles and be consistent. It is important to remember, your toddler is a little human — they will not do everything you want them to do. A teenager or an adult will never do everything you want them to do, you can’t expect that from a 2-year-old. For example, when you go to the park with your toddler and it’s time to go, they likely will want to run back to the swings or climb up that slide. The easy solution is to give in and extend the playtime, but that can lead to larger issues down the line, throw off your schedule, and set the tone that if they act out, you’ll give in. You’ll be at the park again tomorrow and the tantrum will be bigger and longer.
Instead try: Stick to your plan. Tell them they will be back again soon, but it’s time to go now. Typically your little one will be sad to leave, but you can use the tools above to your advantage too. Leave the park, but try to distract by making the walk a game. If they are fighting you to get back in a stroller, let them walk or carry them out. Remember, consistency is key and soon they will know that another park date is to come and there are more fun things to do later on.
Do not ignore aggressive behavior
Do not ignore behaviors such as biting, hitting, kicking, or throwing things. Do not make the mistake of lecturing them during or after the tantrum. It will just bring the attention back to the behavior and will send the wrong message to your toddler. And definitely do not lose your cool and bite or hit your toddler. This will definitely send the wrong message and your toddler will keep repeating by example.
Instead try: In a firm tone tell your toddler, “No more biting,” and remove them from the behavior. By making a firm statement they will realize the message is clear even as tears are still going on. Fewer words are better when getting your point across to a toddler. Remember, this is not a moment to yell, but rather a firm, steady tone is best.
Plan for the unexpected
Tantrums can happen when your little one is hungry or tired. Skipping a nap for an activity or missing a time when they typically eat meal is a recipe for disaster. Toddlers thrive on schedules.
Instead try: You can be flexible, while still being mindful of your toddler’s schedule. If you’re going to be out and about during feeding times, make sure you have a healthy snack with you to avoid “h-Anger.” If it’s time for a nap, make sure you prioritize sleep over a scheduled activity you had planned for yourself. One of my top tips for parents is to never schedule your child’s doctor appointments during feeding and napping times. Kids are already scared of their doctor, so you’re asking for a disaster if you bring your child during those times.
It’s important to remember, if you’re outside the house, do not try to correct their behavior in front of a crowd — it will only give them fuel to continue the behavior. Take them to a quiet place and let them cry and get their frustration out. A toddler’s brain, as smart as they are, is immature and impulsive. Just remember, they’re not throwing a tantrum because they’re being naughty or bad, but because they’re unable to express themselves.
The toddler years are a fascinating stage in your child’s development. Their understanding and independence increases, but their language still lags behind. Tantrums are inevitable. Do not try to discipline during a tantrum — rather, aim to understand and support them.
Last thing to remember, tantrums become less frequent by 3 years old as effective language develops. Remain calm, it’s just a phase!
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