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Written by: Staff Post on 24/05/17
If you have had children for, oh… say a year or more, you know exactly what we are talking about when we say “neverending.” We’ve all been there. You have almost finished your grocery run and they see the candy aisle. And it all goes down-hill from there. How do we get through it? And what can we do to keep these explosions to a minimum? Here are 10 ways of getting through the tantrums and on with life when you have toddlers.
1. Be prepared. It can be a struggle to know exactly when and where the tantrums will hit, but every parent has had to deal with them. Your toddler may have a minefield of triggers, but more often than not, a pattern can be found if you tune in. Does she have a favorite dress that she wants to wear regardless of what the weather’s doing outside, triggering a tantrum if you say no? Does he only eat tuna sandwiches… and absolutely nothing else? Knowing that the tantrum is going to hit is half the battle. So begin to look for patterns and identifying what time of day they tend to hit, and what catalyst is often the culprit.
2. Be empathetic. How tempting it can be to treat toddlers like we would treat an adult! “That doesn’t make any sense, why would you get upset by that?!” and similar appeals to logic often bring about a spiral of taking a tantrum from bad to worse. An important tip for positive parenting in the early stages of a tantrum is demonstrate empathy. “You don’t want to eat chicken today? That is so frustrating, isn’t it?” Not only do you start to set a foundation of understanding between you and your toddler, you set the stage for better communication their part by using words to help them identify the emotion behind their behavior. When they can use words like “frustrated,” and “disappointed,” you are well on your way to creating constructive behaviors that will eventually replace the tantrums.
3. Be firm. Establishing empathy is one thing. Trying to be your toddler’s best friend is another. I watched one mother in a store trying to talk over the ear-splitting screams of her toddler, saying over and over that he was hurting her feelings. There is a time for letting your toddler know that you have feelings. And there is also a time for putting your foot down and making certain your toddler understands that a behavior is unacceptable. If you have to leave your cart in the store and come back to it later, so be it. We do our children no favors when we allow something that is completely unacceptable to continue. My advice to parents is to walk away from the situation with them and figure out what is causing their explosion. Is he or she overtired, or hungry?
Take care of their need if they have one. Otherwise, simply remove them from the environment where the unwanted behavior is possibly garnering attention, then allow normal activity to continue when a calm demeanor has been restored. It only lasted for a while, but there were many times my son and I would be in the car for half an hour or more while he screamed out his frustration over not getting a toy or goodie… and eventually gave up when it became obvious that his screaming was not going to shake me up or get him what he wanted. Warning: you need to be prepared for the long haul if this happens. It will completely undermine your efforts to train them not to throw a tantrum if the end result is that you lose your cool or give in.
4. Offer controlled choices. Especially in the case of clothing and food, toddlers love to make choices. But this can cause problems when they insist on choices that are not in their best interests. If you have regular battles with your kids about food and clothing, a little preparation can have you well on your way to avoiding future tantrums. An excellent parenting tip for handling these particular battles is to plan a set of controlled choices from which they can make selections.
This can mean you plan on the same three things for lunches every single week- and your toddler gets to choose which one he or she has today, tomorrow, and the next day. I actually ended up sitting down and making my three- and five-year-old menu plan for me. Even if I prepared dishes I knew they enjoyed, the battles were still occurring. So finally I decided that if they didn’t suggest it, it didn’t go on the menu. Strangely enough, I still ended up making pretty much the same dishes, but because they chose what day we were eating which dish, it was suddenly ok. Go figure.
5. Set clear expectations. Screen time can be another big catalyst for kids. If tablets or tv tend to cause problems in your household, set your kids up for success by having a conversation with them about it in a neutral setting, like around the dinner table. This doesn’t work if you are currently dealing with a melt-down, so plan for a time when you know your child will be more open to communicating. Talk with them about the appropriate time limit for their desired activity.
One tip for good parenting is to help them begin making their own judgement calls about their activities. I asked my five-year-old about the cons of too much screen time after he and I had already had several neutral conversations about how screen time can affect our health. When he could explain in his own words the detriments of having too much screen time, I knew the time was right to give him more control. He set his own time limit, one that I approved of, and we made an agreement on what kind of behavior allowed that privilege to continue… and what kind of behavior would result in the loss of that privilege. Even at 5 years old, the cognitive ability was there for him to make the connection that his behavior had consequences – good or bad – and that he has the ability to choose. With those expectations clearly in place, when the privilege is lost (and it certainly happens sometimes) he understands that the responsibility falls squarely on his shoulders for it. This builds the concept of self-control, responsible decision-making, and accountability.
6. Allow time and options for decision-making. I’ve noticed that boys especially need advanced notice before they are required to change from one activity to another. Be it the bathroom break that is interrupting his building project, or having to clean up before going to bed, a tantrum is pretty much inevitable unless advanced warning is given and they have a chance to prepare for making the decision to obey.
Obviously, whether or not your child chooses to obey is a decision – one that is best given a few minutes to take place to avoid a melt-down. But there are other decisions you can help them make that will set them up for success in making the right decision. “Do you want to clean up before or after you brush your teeth?” You are not being a pushover or giving them the right to choose whether or not they obey – you are simply presenting more than one option for how they obey.
7. Follow through on your part. Whatever expectations you set or consequences you establish in connection with your child’s behaviors, do not let it fall through the cracks. Be consistent. They will thank you for it in the long run. This goes for promises made to them as well – your child needs to know he or she can depend on you, and your responses to his or her behaviors is very much a part of this.
8. Give the Right of Appeal. This tip for good parenting is often overlooked. Allow for your own mistakes. Sometimes we misinterpret an event or situation and it results in a tantrum because we misunderstand our child’s behavior or intent. Begin early with teaching your child the proper way to go about resolving a misunderstanding by someone in a position of authority. This is not teaching them to back-talk. There are clearly defined rules for this: having a legitimate reason for an action, or being aware of details mom and dad did not know, speaking with respect, etc. It’s important for their development that if an authority figure makes a mistake or misunderstands, the child receives an apology.
9. Create opportunities for correct behaviors. By teaching them that you are not perfect, you are allowing them to work through their own imperfections. Even in situations where hundreds of tantrums have previously occurred, be optimistic and have the expectation that you child will have the right response. Use positive language as you prepare them for things like handling disappointments.
For my kids, it helped immensely to teach them exactly what to say if something doesn’t go their way. “What do we say if so and so doesn’t want to play with you? That’s right, ‘Oh, well.’ or ‘That’s ok.’ Good job, honey.”
10. Model self-control. The most crucial parenting tip is to set the example you want to see your kids emulate. Whatever they see is what they eventually do, no matter what we say to them. Be prepared for when you make mistakes and offer apologies. But do your best to give them the example they need to meet your expectations for acceptable behaviors.
What other tips would help a new parent navigate the turbulence of tantrums? Share with us in the comments!
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