Ah toddlers and tantrums. Anyone who has had a toddler or hung around one will know that tantrums are a really tough stage. For the toddler and for the parent.
And all the advice about how to handle tantrums just adds to the confusion. Time out. Time in. Don’t reward the behaviour. Ignore them and they’ll go away. It’s enough to make you want to have a tantrum yourself! So here’s some tips from a mum who’s been in the tantrum trenches a few times.
All kids have tantrums: Anyone who says differently is lying. The good news is tantrums are not a result of your parenting. They’re actually nothing to do with you. They’re also not a reflection on your kids. So what are they?
Tantrums are a stage: Like learning to sleep through the night and growing teeth, tantrums are a normal, if painful, stage of child development. All kids start asserting their independence at some stage and all kids need help handling the big emotions. It’s normal – though it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. But it does help when dealing with a tantrum to know that this stage won’t last forever. Grit teeth and repeat: It’s just a stage.
So if you can’t stop your kids having tantrums, how do you survive them?
Stay calm: Tougher than it sounds I know. When your small person is in the middle of a meltdown, especially somewhere embarrassing like in public or in front of your in-laws, it can be hard to maintain your composure. But the last thing the situation needs is a whole lot more emotion from your end. It’s a tough time to be the mature one, but someone has to be and clearly your kid isn’t it. They need you to show them that having big emotions is okay and that you are in control when they aren’t. It’s also about modelling. You can’t ask them to calm down and use their words if you are chucking a tantrum of your own.
Stay close: Even when they’re at their worst, kids need to know that you love them. They need to know that you are there with them and ready to help when they have calmed down.
Keep them safe: Sometimes during tantrums kids lash out at others or behave in ways that might hurt themselves. We need to keep them safe. This may mean holding them close or moving them to another space. Explain what you are doing: I am holding you because I don’t want you to hurt yourself.
Be firm but fair: Kids are clever. They repeat what works. So when you are tempted to give in to stop a tantrum, and trust me we’ve all been there, remember that you are teaching your child that having a tantrum gets them what they want. Short term gain but long term pain. Instead be firm but fair. Offer other options that are acceptable to you: no you can’t have that lollipop, but if you’re hungry you’re welcome to choose a piece of fruit.
Help them understand their feelings: Maybe they are tired. Worried. Angry or frustrated. Needing attention or simply a hug. All these feelings are okay. We need our kids to know that we love them whatever they are feeling, but that there are acceptable ways to express those feelings. Help them name their feelings – it’s okay to feel frustrated because you really wanted that toy.
Teach them other ways to express what they need: When your kid has calmed down, and only them, try to teach them other ways of expressing their feelings or needs. Explain that tantrums are not acceptable behaviour and help them come up with other ideas of what to do when they are feeling that way.
Love them: Whilst it might seem like forever that you’re in the trenches dealing with tantrums, they really are just a stage. With your help, your kids will eventually learn other ways to express their feelings and what they need. And by then you’ll be on to some other new stage…separation anxiety and starting kindy anyone?
Good luck with taming the beast. Of course remember ‘this too shall pass…’ and one day you’ll look back and wish a tantrum was the biggest thing you had to deal with! Until then, don’t let them break you mumma!