From 15 – 20 months old, my daughter was the sweetest little thing. She would follow basic commands without any complaint. She would happily go along with any plan. She didn’t mind sitting in the grocery cart for an hour or two and she didn’t need to be entertained. Car rides were painless and quiet.
Shortly after she turned two years old, I saw a shift in her behavior. Suddenly, she seemed to realize that she had opinions and wanted to share them. If she didn’t want to do something, I heard about it. She would yell, cry, and try to talk her way out of things.
If I don’t meet her requests in a timely manner aka immediately, she will have a meltdown. Sometimes she’ll cry or whine while other times she’ll have a full-blown temper tantrum.
Temper tantrums are very common and are a normal part of growing up. They usually appear between the ages of 1.5 and 4 years old. They can include crying, screaming, kicking, biting and rolling around on the floor. Even though temper tantrums are a normal part of development, it doesn’t make them easy to deal with.
Here are some ways I deal with my toddler’s temper tantrums.
1) Offer options or solutions
Sometimes temper tantrums are over something specific. She wants a certain snack, toy or book right now.
If I can’t or don’t want to give her the thing she requests, I offer another solution to her problem. I tell her what her options are and let her pick the one that sounds best to her.
For example, if she’s demanding a popsicle fifteen minutes before dinner, I tell her she can have two mini marshmallows or an apple slice. Sometimes she keeps crying, but most of the time she picks one of the choices.
Offering solutions or options doesn’t always work or isn’t possible in some situations. If I’m in public or stuck on a long car ride, I will give in to her demands on occasion.
2) Distract and redirect
If the tantrum has not reached full-blown levels, I try distracting her. “Oh, look at this thing” or “I think I have something for you in my purse” usually works. Most of the time the thing in my purse is random – one of her hairbows or a box of Tic Tacs for her to shake. Sometimes I offer my phone for a set amount of time – usually 10 minutes – so she can look at photos of herself or play on the PBS Go app.
If we’re at home, I redirect her to another activity or location. If she’s having a meltdown over watching TV, I’ll tell her we’re going to go outside and draw on the driveway with chalk. If it’s cold or raining, I’ll take her down to the playroom in the basement and ask her if we can have a tea party. Sometimes changing location is enough to stop the tantrum.
3) Talk it out
Most of the time I talk to my daughter in my normal voice. When a tantrum starts, I go into a serious, deeper voice.
If we’re at a restaurant and she starts melting down, I will say “Listen to me. We’re at a restaurant, we don’t do this behavior here. If you keep doing this, we’re going to go to the car and not get our food/lemonade/toy.”
Most of the time, if I remind her that I expect good behavior when we are somewhere, she behaves. I’ve explained many times that good behavior means eating her food, not throwing anything, and using an indoor voice.
I also use language that shows I understand her feelings. I’ll say, “You’re very upset. You really wanted to dance on the booth, but mommy said no. That’s really frustrating.” Usually, she will respond by echoing that she’s upset. At that point, I’ll try to distract her or offer some options for things she can do.
4) Comfort and hug
A little love and affection can go a long way when a tantrum is starting. I usually stay silent when I hug and comfort her. If I say anything, I’ll repeat “It’s OK, it’s OK” in a soothing tone. I’ve been comforting her with that phrase since she was born and it seems to work.
I can tell right away if she’s feeling upset and wants the comfort or if trying to hug her is going to make it worse. If she is not responsive to the hugs or pushes me away then I move on to the next option.
5) Let her cry
If I’ve offered a solution or option, tried to distract or redirect, talked it out, or offered comfort and she’s still throwing a fit, I let her cry. I tell her that it seems like she needs to cry it out and she can go ahead and do that for as long as she wants.
Obviously, this method is a little trickier in public, but ultimately I am not concerned with what people think about my parenting. They are only seeing one frame of the movie and that’s not enough to judge the whole thing.
As she’s gotten a bit older, she will say “I don’t want to cry it out” and get control of herself. We’ve also told her she can hug her “Sad Bunny” when she feels bad and the bunny will help her feel better.
The crying usually doesn’t last long especially if I act like I can’t hear it or it’s not happening. If the crying escalates then I try my last option.
6) Ignore her and walk away
**Note: I don’t do this in public. If the other options haven’t worked, we will leave or wait in the car until she’s calm.**
Finally, if the tantrum is epic, I ignore her and walk away. I start washing dishes, answer an email, or eat a snack. I go about my business as if I can’t hear the crying and screaming.
I only use this technique if all other options have failed. Sometimes she needs to work through her tantrum on her own. She has never cried, screamed or whined for more than 10 or 20 minutes while being ignored.
Toddler tantrums can be stressful for both child and parent. When your toddler throws a fit, work through these options. Keep in mind, the most important thing you can do is keep your cool and act in love. Adding your own crying or screaming to the tantrum won’t help. Your child needs help navigating his or her emotions. Guiding them in a loving way will set them up to better handle their feelings when they are adults.