If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the “terrible twos” — and threes, and maybe even fours — you’re hardly alone. Every toddler parent yearns to find the magic formula that will help their child calm down, manage their emotions, and not, say, meltdown preschool drop-off.
As children grow and develop in the first few years of life, they can become frustrated by things beyond their control. And let’s face it: That’s pretty much everything. They express their tiny, yet powerful, frustration through vocal, often-unyielding outbursts: Enter the tantrum.
As parents, we dread — if not wholly cower from — toddler meltdowns, and we’re especially anxious about them happening in public. But fear not, because tried-and-true strategies can help you and your child work through existing tantrums and help future ones from escalating.
Practical Parent Tips: Preventing Temper Tantrums
We’ve all had days when the simplest things feel frustrating or overwhelming, and those feelings are exactly what toddlers go through before they throw a fit. Young children can’t articulate or moderate complex emotions, so they often panic when they’re stressed or frustrated.
When toddlers have outbursts, they’re probably frustrated about something they can’t understand. To prevent tantrums from escalating, parents need to work through these issues and address the source of the frustration. In other words: slapping on a band-aid won’t do; you’ve got to go back to the source of the cut.
Teach the art of self-regulation
Kids — and adults, too, for that matter — must learn self-regulation, the practice of understanding, and responding to, one’s own emotional needs. For toddlers, that means learning to think critically about feelings and concisely addressing one’s own needs.
Teaching your toddler self-regulation can prevent tantrums from escalating. It can also make your relationship healthier.
Give your toddler some control
Kids get frustrated by things beyond their control. So why not give them some control? That’s the beauty of choices.
Imagine going to a restaurant and having the server bring you soda instead of coffee when it’s the latter you really want. You’d probably be confused, if not outright irritated.
Now, imagine that scenario over and over again, dozens — maybe hundreds — of times a day. That’s sort of what it’s like to be a toddler.
Toddlers are capable of making choices; say, what they want for a snack or which pair of shoes they want to wear. They just need to be allowed to do so. Offer two options and let your toddler decide — you may be surprised by just how much this seemingly small step positively affects a child’s demeanor, mindset, and overall sense of control.
Don’t say “no” before considering the request
As adults with free will and plenty of choices, we tend to forget how upsetting it is to be told “no” — especially when you’re told so automatically, all the time.
When your toddler asks for something, take a step back and ask yourself whether the request is reasonable or unreasonable. Can you accommodate it in such a way that it works for both of you? Is there a reason you’re saying “no?” Can you compromise? In short: Is it really, fundamentally a big deal, or are you the one making it a big deal simply by saying “no?”
Of course, not every toddler request is reasonable — we know this. So if you stand by your “no” and your child still seems frustrated, talk it through like you would an adult. Perhaps the frustration stems from a lack of control, or from something unrelated to the request itself.
Understand your child’s limits
Everyone has limits — especially children. And as they learn how to self-regulate their feelings and emotions, they’re likely to get overwhelmed. Be sensitive to that and be cautious about further exacerbating the issue.
For instance, if your child has had a difficult day, whether at child care or home, leave the grocery shopping for tomorrow — they’ll probably be in no mood to be confined to a stroller or shopping cart, and you’ll only be tempting fate by schlepping them around.
There will be days when you have no choice — you can’t always postpone a doctor’s appointment or long car trip. That’s why it’s important to learn some calming techniques that can help avert disasters at home and away.
Calming Techniques for Kids and De-escalating Tantrums
If parents could magically prevent tantrums, we would (and a mountain of how-to books would immediately cease to be relevant). That’s all fantasy though; in reality, tantrums are a fact of life — for every parent and every toddler.
For help working through most of the outbursts, try these two simple de-escalation techniques:
Talk it through: Why is your child upset?
Step 1: Ask your child why they’re upset.
Find the source of the frustration. Is your child upset because they can’t have the toy, or are they frustrated because they’re feeling ignored? Talking through the tantrum gives kids the opportunity to explain why they’re feeling overwhelmed. More often than not, your child is probably upset about more than just, say, a train you won’t let them have at the dinner table. And by talking it out, you’re helping them feel heard — and valued.
Offer solutions: Don’t force positive or negative association with tantrums
Step 2: Offer solutions to your child.
Once you find out why your child is frustrated, it’s time to get to work. But try to avoid forcing positive or negative associations with tantrums. When you positively reinforce their tantrum (say, by giving in), your child may learn to associate meltdowns with rewards — not what you want.
Instead, offer solutions that work for both of you. Perhaps there’s a compromise that makes both of you happy. You won’t know until you talk it through.
It’s also important to avoid negative associations with tantrums. Don’t punish your child for expressing frustration. Teach them how to work through their emotions intelligently.
To learn more about calming techniques for kids, visit Joie de Vivvi, our blog.