They call it the “Terrible Twos” but toddler tantrums can start at any age. You’ll know the signs soon enough – the screaming, the shaking and the rolling on the floor. It can be upsetting for parents, but here are 10 tips to deal with a tantrumming toddler – and avoiding the tears yourself.
1 Stay calm
It’s easier said than done, I know. When your child throws themselves on the floor, it’s distressing and worrying. But raising your voice or shouting will only make everything more intense.
2 Trust your instincts
You know what your child looks like when they’re in real distress (fear, night trauma, choking, pain, etc). Is this the same as that, or are they performing? Your instinct as a parent is probably right, and you should trust it. It’s important to know the difference between a child who needs urgent help, and one that is having a tantrum.
3 Yes, everyone is looking. Deal with it.
If you’re out and about, try to block out everyone around you. Don’t worry about the people around you, or feel that you have to shhh your child to make them feel better – if you do that, you run the risk of making your child feel even more upset than they already are. Yes, everyone is turning around and looking at you. They’re having a right old nose at your child as they scream and yell. Yes, it’s a bit embarrassing. But…
4 No, you’re not a bad parent.
Children go through a stage of having tantrums, whether it’s Terrible Twos or Terrible Eighteen Months or Terrible Threes. It’s all about them realising that things can’t be exactly how they want them to be, and the frustration that causes. Their little brains are moving at a million miles an hour and they’re trying to process so much information and feelings that sometimes they gets overloaded. You’re not a bad parent and…
5 No, they’re not spoiled.
It’s not true that “good” children grow up without ever getting angry or upset, and “bad” or “spoiled” children are the ones you see having meltdowns in the middle of Toys R Us. That’s just not the way it is. Remember, everyone goes through this. All children struggle to cope with situations or events. It doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong or caused this. This was always going to happen anyway.
6 Distract them
Talk about something else with your child – anything else. Is there a toy you can use to distract them? Is there any random object you can place in their hands? Is there something you can sing to them to take their mind off it? What works once might not work every time. The best you can do is try everything you can, including…
Take a pause before you do anything. You’re not crowding the child straight away, who’s in a state of confusion and high emotion, and you’re also giving yourself time to think. You might feel angry, upset or annoyed… but wait. Your child almost certainly isn’t wrecking a lovely day out on purpose. It’s just feelings they can’t control yet. Take a moment to remember that.
8 Don’t tell them off
It’s tempting to think of a tantrum as a “naughty” piece of behaviour that children are doing on purpose to upset you. But they’re confused and disoriented, not deliberately going out of their way to make you feel bad. Obviously, if they’re going to hurt themselves by rolling around or whatever, you have to stop them, maybe hold them, and explain what you’re doing.
9 Do praise them for recovering
Once things have calmed down again, have a cuddle. It’s really important that your child receives your attention and love for making things right again – which will always happen, in the end. Say “thank you for listening” or “thank you for doing the right thing”. Remind them they’re loved.
10 It won’t always be like this
Toddler tantrums do go away, in the end. It takes time and patience, and it can be hard to deal with while it’s happening, especially if you’re tired and you’ve had to deal with a lot already. But a tantrum might just be a tiny part of a day, and as they grow up and learn how to behave at home and away, it will get better. (It will get worse again, when they become teenagers, of course, but that’s a long way away…)