Toddler tantrums are frustrating and exhausting for both parents and children - use these tips to help manage the meltdowns
7 April 2019| Last updated on 10 April 2019
Dealing with a toddler tantrum is something no parent likes to do, and few can avoid.
But how can parents manage these meltdowns, which are often for seemingly ridiculous reasons (to an adult), and can leave all concerned feeling frustrated, helpless and exhausted? Do mums and dads just have to grin (if they can) and bear it?
To an extent, yes, says Toddler Town. But before despairing parents start to wail and cry themselves, experts stress that there are many things they can do to keep their cool, help their child calm down, and reduce the frequency and intensity of tantrums
Parents often want to know exactly what to do during a tantrum, or in the moments immediately before – those are the moments that feel like a crisis and can really take a toll on our sanity.
It’s so important to think in a more holistic way, and consider measures you can take every day, in an ongoing way, to decrease the frequency, duration, and intensity of your child’s tantrums. Remember that, on so many levels, your child’s behaviour depends on you, as the parent. You have the capacity to set a tone and atmosphere less likely to result in your child’s meltdown.
Experts stress no strategy works for every child, every time: The goal is to try them out and play with them to see what ends up being most effective with your child and day-to-day life.
Here seven ways to handle and reduce tantrums:
1. Be willing to look silly
Experts point out that toddlers love all things silly, and it can help distract them from their mounting rage. Parents need to think on their feet, and should be willing to pull unexpected and absurd tricks out of their back pocket, as they have a higher likelihood of stopping an oncoming tantrum train in its tracks.
2. Become aware of your own states
A parent’s own feelings and physical state – stressed, hungry, tired – can make a real difference as to whether a tantrum occurs or not. Experts out that parents need to be aware of their own state so they’re more prepared for their child’s potential reaction to it.
3. See the world through your child’s eyes
Much of preventing and managing tantrums involves what happened earlier, so parents need to think ahead about their child’s perspective on events, and anticipate how they might react. If there’s a chance of something provoking a tantrum, then try to alter things, if possible.
If parents acknowledge their child’s distress in the first place (“I know you wish you had different sheets, this colour just doesn’t look right tonight”) then the child feels heard and understood, and is much more likely to stay calm.
4. Use attention strategically
Children want attention from their parents more than anything, even if it’s negative attention. So parents need to make sure they give more attention to a behaviour they want to promote, than to a behaviour they want to eliminate.
This tactic even applies to when parents use their phones. You may pull out your phone when your child’s playing nicely, but there’s a chance they could kick-off when they realise they haven’t got your full attention – at which point you’ll put your phone away, thus rewarding the undesirable behaviour.
Instead, only get your phone out when it looks like they’re about to have a meltdown, therefore making it clear you’re not going to give any attention to their undesirable behaviour.
5. Label your child’s emotions
A parent’s instinct is to ‘fix’ an impending tantrum, but this may suggest to your child that you don’t understand how upset they are, and runs the risk of intensifying the tantrum. Instead, Experts says parents need to describe what’s going on, and empathise with their child (even if it’s the last thing they feel like doing). “Empathy can go a long way when your child is in the throes of a meltdown, most often when it’s packaged in brief and clear words or phrases,”.
6. Model emotional regulation
How toddlers learn to handle difficult feelings largely depends on how they see their parents handling theirs, so ask yourself what you look like when you’re angry or upset, and try to modify your behaviour, particularly when the kids are around.
Experts says that when a child is having a tantrum, their nervous system is overloaded, and science shows human nervous systems co-regulate. “This means if both of you are stressed or frustrated, those feelings are contagious, in a sense, and you’re amping each other up. If you, as the parent, can stay calm and grounded, then your child’s nervous system can sense that, and use your state to return to its own calmer state.”
7. Keep it short
Children, and adults, can’t take in information when they’re in a state of high emotional reactivity. So let them know you understand how they’re feeling, but skip the rational explanations about what’s happening, at least until they’ve calmed down.
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