You feel helpless. Your child has been throwing a tantrum… for over an hour. Nothing works. You’ve tried soothing him to no avail. Completely ignoring him didn’t do the trick, either. And you seemed to leave every outing or party carrying a wailing toddler in your arms, trying to strap him in the car seat and making your quick getaway.
That was me and my son when he first began throwing tantrums. And while these tantrums don’t seem to be going anywhere just yet (please tell me there’s no such thing as “The Terrible Three’s”), they have been much quicker and dealt with more effectively than when they first made their grand entrance.
Because nowadays, while our weeks and months are peppered with tantrums here and there, most end in about five minutes and don’t seem as terrible.
One reason is his age: he’s growing up, and with that comes better communication skills, more understanding of his emotions, and a developing brain putting all this together. He’s also learning what tantrums are and knows that even though they’re normal, they also won’t lead to any attention or get him anything he wants.
Another reason his tantrums have lessened in intensity, duration and frequency may be because of us—his parents. Having “done our time” in the trenches of tantrums, we’ve had quite a bit of experience with handling one whenever one should pop up.
I started thinking about what exactly we do whenever our toddler throws a tantrum and realized that we’ve been relying on a process or pattern that seems to keep them at a minimum. So I did a bit of scribbling here, some laying out there, and came up with:
Sleeping Should Be Easy’s Quick Guide to Handling Tantrums — ta-da! Download the FREE guide
Every child is of course different so this guide is by no means a comprehensive, one-size-fits-all solution, but the process outlined here has helped our toddler cope with the madness often found during these lovely tantrums.
For instance, in the past, we found that removing him from the situation—even simply stepping to another room—was enough to calm him down whereas attempting to temper his frustration right then and there made him angrier.
In reading The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. (which I reviewed in this post), I also empathized first before trying to even reason with him. He seemed more compliant when he knew we were still “on his side.”
And more importantly, I learned that often times, simply holding him and reassuring him of our love shortened the duration of the tantrums drastically. Disciplining, reasoning, and even talking him “out of it” with words seemed to exacerbate the tantrum.
The biggest thing I learned? Kids need our unconditional love. It’s easy to shower our kids with attention when they’re happy and pleasant, only to withhold our love when they’re “being bad.”
They’re not being bad. They’re sorting through new emotions and don’t understand why we turn mean when they’re not happy. When we lose our temper, yell or get upset, they might think we love them only when they’re happy and less so when they’re upset. They learn that certain emotions can seem “bad” in their parents’ eyes.
This isn’t to say that their behavior is acceptable. Wanting to eat the dog’s food or dump a bucket of water onto the floor isn’t allowed. Establish limits and stick to it.
However, you’re still on their side. So while their actions and behavior may not be good, your kids always are. And they need to know and feel that.
I may just be jinxing myself again here and end up with another uncontrollable tantrum the minute this post is published, but generally I’ve been happy with the way we’ve handled his recent outbursts. Hopefully you’ll find the guide just as useful should you ever find yourself with an inconsolable toddler in the midst of another challenging tantrum.
Do you have a process for dealing with tantrums? Have you tried following the suggestions outlined in this guide and found them useful for your child? How does your child react to soothing, talking and other methods of calming down during a tantrum?