Your Cheat Sheet Guide to Handling Tantrums [FREE Download]

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 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 some 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

Your Cheat Sheet Guide to Handling Tantrums [FREE Download]

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 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.

wholeIn 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 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.

Unconditional love

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?

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Nina

Nina is a working mom to three boys—a five-year-old and toddler twins. She blogs about parenting at Sleeping Should Be Easy, where she writes everything she's learning about being mom and all its joys and challenges. She also covers topics like how kids learn and play, family life, being a working mom and life with twins. Download her free ebook, "Time Management Strategies for the Overwhelmed Mom" for more tips.

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  1. says

    I haven’t experienced a “full blown” tantrum yet, but even these little ones are so frustrating. I am hoping the terrible two’s aren’t coming early! Great post…

  2. says

    Baguette had her first tantrum a week ago. Prior to that, I’d been able to interrupt them before they really got going, but this one just blossomed out of nowhere.

    It wasn’t really nowhere, of course–she was tired and frustrated. But so far she does respond well to verbal calming (I always start with the quiet “shh-shh-shh-shh” I used to calm her as a newborn), and that and a snuggle eventually calmed her down.

    At some point, she’ll have a tantrum that can only be resolved by stepping back and letting her melt down. I’m hoping that’s not soon, though.

  3. Jessica Baker says

    My eldest is three now and she’s never had a tantrum that has lasted longer than a minute or so, and I’m afraid to say I tend to just ignore her, and when she’s calmed down just give her a cuddle, and quickly move on to something else. But she does grumble or strongly disagree with me sometimes and I’m afraid she still does that a lot at three. So I don’t think you are out of the woods yet! ;o)

    • says

      Nooooo!!! You and Yeti9000 are not making me feel any better about my son turning three haha. But hey at least I’ll come prepared and have more realistic expectations 😉

  4. says

    Oh, man…I so wish I could tell you differently, but, sadly, the “terrible three’s” are very real and they are much, much worse! Brace yourself! :)

  5. Steph says

    People keep telling me that they’re kids had a harder time when they were three than when they were two. :( I’m really hoping it’s not true!

  6. says

    It has been a long time since I’ve had little ones who threw those kind of toddler tantrums. Years down the road you will have fun teenage fits to look forward to. However, remember what you just wrote about how you, as parents, now have experience in the trenches. We all learn while being parents, when our kids are young, like yours are or when they have “grown and Flown,” like ours.

  7. Erika@YouJustDidWhat says

    How can the 3s be any worse. My girl has a flair for the dramatic and throws herself down on the floor doesn’t matter where. She’s not too shy to throw down a tantrum anywhere. One thing I do is just stay calm. Right now I feel like she is in a constant state of whining. I really don’t know how to get her to stop and I feel like I’ve tried everything!

  8. says

    This is fantastic! What a great tool. I will not only use this when the tantrums become common (they are only in the early stages now), but I will pass this onto our Child Development teacher at the high school. What a great poster to hang in her classroom. Thanks for sharing this with everyone.

  9. says

    When my toddler’s tantrums started, they were horrid too. Absolutely awful. Could go for an hour, screaming and crying. Then I decided to put her to bed, or in her bedroom, the instant she started throwing a tantrum. I’d tell her she could come out when she was ready to smile. Ever since then, tantrums have been less frequent and lasted less than two minutes! :)