Surprised that your baby turned toddler is throwing tantrums? Discover the tips to deal with 1 year old tantrums (it’s different from older kids!).
This can’t be right, I thought. Are 1 year olds supposed to have toddler tantrums already?
I was expecting tantrums much later, during the Terrible Twos everyone talked about. I didn’t even know 1 year olds could have tantrums.
Except here I was with my son, who wasn’t even a year old yet, when I first saw glimpses of a tantrum.
I was already struggling with the busyness of motherhood. Communicating with him, who at that point had limited words to express himself, wasn’t exactly easy.
And to be honest, I was caught off guard—I wasn’t prepared to deal with 1 year old tantrums, especially when I’d tell him not to do something. I felt pushed to my limits, my patience tested in ways I hadn’t experienced when he was still a baby.
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How to deal with 1 year old tantrums
It’s never easy dealing with tantrums, whether it’s hitting and biting, bedtime battles, or separation anxiety. Your child might stomp her feet, hit her head, or shriek in public places. You see her frustration as she tries to communicate but can’t express herself or understand you.
The fussiness she had as a baby has morphed into screaming on her tummy, turning red in the face, and kicking and flailing her limbs. In other words, a full-blown fit. How do you stop her from having so many meltdowns?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Although tantrums seem to be more common among 2 year olds, they can still happen at various ages. They’re also a normal part of child development.
One year olds in particular are overwhelmed by new and strong emotions, while also feeling frustrated with their limitations. They’re too young to understand concepts that seem simple to us, like why they can’t pull all the books from the shelf or throw spaghetti on the floor.
Although my son’s angry outbursts caught me off guard, I learned valuable lessons on how to handle them moving forward. These tips—unlike those for older toddlers—take into account your child’s young age. I also share tools to prevent and handle them when they happen.
Because the truth is, it’s difficult to discipline a 1 year old throwing a tantrum compared to an older child. Still, it’s possible… and here’s how:
1. Focus on calming your child down
When your 1 year old throws a tantrum, it’s easy to launch into “strict mode.” Maybe you dive straight into why he can’t do this or that, or try to explain the teachable moments he can learn from the experience. Sometimes you might even lose your temper and raise your voice.
Thing is, tantrums are no time to scold and teach. When he’s flailing his arms and screeching his head off, the last thing he’s able to do is listen, much less learn from the moment.
Save the lessons and consequences for later, and instead calm him down first. You could sit him on your lap, hold him in a tight hug, reassure him with calming words, rock him side to side, or show empathy for what he’s frustrated about.
He can’t listen to logical words you’re saying when he’s still throwing a tantrum. Use this opportunity to reassure him you’re still here, that he’s in a safe place, and that you understand.
Calming him down also has more two benefits. First, you’re modeling how he can calm down, and second, it prevents you from flying off the handle and making hasty decisions you might regret.
Now, this doesn’t mean you’re letting him have what he wants or that calming him down is a reward.
Let’s say he has a full-blown fit every time you change his diaper, and you’re worried that calming him down means you’re giving in. But showing compassion and empathy doesn’t enable misbehavior—in fact, it’s during these times he needs it the most.
Enabling the behavior would be not changing his diaper because he threw a fit.
Instead, you might say, “I know it’s tough, and we’re going to do our best to make it easier, okay? How about you hold this toy while I change your diaper. I’ll make sure to get the diaper and wipe ready so it’s quick. I’ll do my super-fast changing diaper move, that way you can play right after…”
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“I often get upset when my little boy (almost 1) cries. He gets very upset and is quite sensitive, but instead of trying to ‘fix’ things for him or give him his dummy, I just sat with him, rocked him and hugged him, and he was ok. It took longer than how I was doing it before, but it was actually a nice bonding experience as I felt I was comforting and helping him through the things bothering him. Thanks for the advice.” -Gemma P.
2. Don’t give in to unreasonable demands
Dealing with 1 year old tantrums seems to have a quick fix: give your child what he wants so he’ll stop crying about it.
In some cases, this is true: he might be hungry and need a snack, or he wants his special lovey and will quiet down once he has it in his hands.
But tantrums don’t always go away even after obliging his requests. In fact, he might throw another fit about something else, or even reject the snack or lovey he had been so adamant about.
You see, I thought giving my son what he asked for would do the trick. Instead, if it wasn’t one thing, it was something else—he always found yet another reason to throw a fit.
I then learned that it’s useless to continue giving in to unreasonable demands. And unreasonable they were—at one point, he was in tears because I wouldn’t let him knock down a lamp.
Instead of obliging your child, focus on calming him down, showing empathy and, at the end of the day, keeping him safe. Giving in to requests only sets off on an endless cycle that will never make him happy.
Let’s say he wants you to hold him during dinner and throws a fit when you won’t. You could start by helping him calm down and holding him somewhere else besides the dining table. Then, once he’s calmed down, explain that it’s time for dinner, and that you can’t hold him while you eat.
Let him know you could snuggle after dinner, but for now, he can either join you and eat at the table, or come when he’s ready. But one thing is for certain: you’re going to eat dinner right now, and will be able to hug him afterward. Show that “you’ve got this,” or that you won’t get unnerved by his tantrums.
That way, he knows you’re there for him, but that you also have other things to do, including making sure you get to eat. Set those boundaries and follow through so he knows to take your word and what he can expect.
3. Meet your child’s basic needs
Sometimes we think our kids are being dramatic, chuckling or shaking our heads at some of the reasons they throw a fit.
But other times, your child might have a valid reason for her tantrums. Maybe she’s been overlooked so much that she erupts in a rage, or feels overcome with intense emotions that are difficult to quiet.
Dig deep and ask yourself why she’s behaving this way and, based on your guesses and assumptions, respond appropriately. By meeting her needs, you can lower the intensity of the tantrum. For instance, is she…
- Overstimulated? The environment can overstimulate 1 year olds compared to older kids. Could the sights and sounds be too much for her? Is she getting overwhelmed with all the people at the family party? If so, carry her to a different, quieter part—a simple change in environment can be all she needs to calm down.
- Hungry? Everyone gets cranky when they’re hungry, and 1 year olds are no exception. Think back to the last time she ate. Has it been a while? If so, offer a snack or milk to ease her hunger.
- Sleepy and tired? Being kept awake far too long between naps can take a toll. While it’s unlikely she’ll go straight to sleep in the middle of a tantrum, you can still help her rest and keep activities to a minimum. See if she’ll lay on you for a quick rest to ease the fatigue, especially away from the hustle of a busy environment.
4. Talk about your child’s feelings at his level
Unlike you and I, young children have no idea what emotions are, why they exist, or if they’ll go away. You can imagine how overwhelming emotions can feel, without any reassurance that they’re normal.
This is when labeling feelings and describing your child’s experiences comes in handy. Yep, even starting as young as a year old.
Here’s an analogy: Imagine coming down with an ailment you’ve never experienced. You go to your doctor to get it checked out, and she says, “Ah yes, that’s called such and such, and it’s pretty common among people your age. Here’s the treatment.” You breathe a sigh of relief, right?
But if your doctor says, “Hmm, I’ve never seen this. Let me ask my colleagues to see what they think and dig up more research for you,” you come home not quite so reassured.
Using words gives your child that reassurance so he knows this feeling is not only normal, but experienced by everyone else. Labeling also adds another benefit: you’re teaching him the words he can learn and use down the line.
After all, one of the biggest triggers for tantrums is the inability for kids to express themselves. They might have separation anxiety or feel frustrated when they can’t solve a puzzle. Imagine how many tantrums you can avoid if he’s able to say “mad” or “sad.”
Given his young age, it’s also best to use simple words. Stick to simple ones he can use. “Sad” is much easier to say than “disappointed.” You can use both, but emphasize easy words he can say as well.
5. Work together on finding a solution
Sometimes kids get frustrated not because they want something, but because we can’t understand what they’re saying. After all, as savvy as we are with guessing and filling in the blank, communication can get lost when dealing with a 1 year old.
Your best bet? Admit you’re having a hard time understanding the problem. You might say, “I’m sorry I can’t understand what it is you’re trying to tell me.”
Acknowledging your own limitations forces you to work together to find the solution she feels so angry about. Work with her to see what she’s trying to say. For instance, you can ask, “Can you point to what you want?” or “Do you want the ball you were playing with?”
Even if you can’t figure out what she’s saying, you’re at least trying to see things from her perspective. You’re also likely to be more patient when you can see how difficult it is for her to communicate.
And lastly, praise him when you’re able to resolve the issue. He learns that this is the way he can express himself instead of throwing a fit.
How to prevent 1 year old tantrums
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Tantrums are difficult for everyone, most of all our kids. After all, they’re dealing with overwhelming emotions, can’t communicate as well as they’d like, and finding it difficult to calm down.
Thankfully, you can do plenty to prevent them in the first place.
Now, we can’t erase tantrums completely from our lives, but we can reduce the intensity or frequency when they do happen:
- Make transitions easier. Tantrums often happen because your child struggles with stopping one activity in place of another. Give him plenty of time to do the first activity as well as “warnings” that you’re about to shift into a new one. And highlight the benefits of the new activity—your body language and tone of voice can get him excited for the change.
- Have a predictable daily routine. Kids thrive on schedules and predictability. Make your key “pillars” of the day (eating, sleeping, playing) regular. Do them at the same times and in the same order so he knows what to expect and will be less likely to resist.
- Offer age-appropriate toys and activities. My son threw a fit because he couldn’t figure out a toy that was more suited for his older brother. As much as we should challenge kids, some toys and activities are more likely to get them frustrated.
- Encourage communication. The more words he hears and says, the less frustrated he’ll feel. Even if he can’t say many words right now, encourage simple communication such as pointing. And don’t disregard his grunts and sounds, especially since that’s how he can communicate for now.
- Offer choices. Having a say in the matter can help him follow what you’re asking. Let’s say he tends to throw a car seat tantrum. You might ask, “Do you want to get in by yourself, or do you want me to carry you?” Or “Would you want to snack on crackers or a cheese stick?”
And take a look at Calm-Down Time by Elizabeth Verdick to help him calm down from his tantrums:
For many parents, the shock of seeing intense emotions at such a young age can come as a surprise. You’re not ready to tackle behavior issues, or you don’t know how to respond when they happen. Perhaps tantrums make you feel afraid at the lack of control you have over your child.
One thing is for sure, though: we can’t always respond to 1 year olds the same way we can with older kids. Thankfully, you now have a few tips to help him cope with his tantrums.
Describe what’s happening, not only to show empathy, but to give him the words he can use down the line. Acknowledge your own difficulty in understanding what he’s saying so you’re more likely to be patient and find a solution.
Focus on calming him down, especially since he can’t understand or learn any lessons in the middle of a tantrum. Meet his immediate and basic needs, such as moving to a quieter room if he’s overstimulated.
At the same time, don’t give in to unreasonable demands—if nothing makes him happy, it’s unlikely anything else he asks for will. And finally, learn how to prevent tantrums in the first place so they happen less frequently or intensely.
Unfortunately, toddler temper tantrums can happen early, but at least now you have the tools to deal with them, even when they come earlier than the Terrible Twos.
Get more tips:
- Why Redirecting Children’s Behavior Works Better Than Distracting
- Why Your Toddler Is Going Through the 1 Year Old Sleep Regression
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Hits
- 5 Things to Remember when You’re Losing Your Temper with Your Toddler
- How to Stop Your Toddler from Hitting
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