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How to Handle Toddler Tantrums

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One moment, he’s your angelic child cooing, “I love you, Mommy,” and the next he’s screaming and crying at the top of his lungs. This is a scenario we’ve all gone through many, many times: from angel to monster in a matter of seconds.

The other day my 7-year-old, Grace, and 4-year-old, Rylen settled down to do a craft project together with me. They each have their own Elmer’s glue to use, but rather than dig Grace’s out from the box, I asked if Rylen would let Grace use his. And all hell broke loose! It all happened so fast that even I’m not entirely sure what happened or why he was so angry about having to share. All of a sudden he was screaming and crying because he didn’t want to hand over his glue.

He obviously did not get to participate in our craft project because I don’t reward bad behavior.

Now before we get to the “how” to handle these high-intense situations, we need to understand why tantrums happen. Based on the research I’ve done and my own experience, these are the key reasons why they happen.

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how to handle toddler tantrum

Communication

They can get frustrated because they’re trying to tell you something and their limited mobility doesn’t allow them to do so or you just don’t understand what they’re saying.

My toddler is quite vocal but even I sometimes struggle to understand what he’s trying to tell me.

Independence

They just want to assert it. How many times have you stood and watched while your kid attempts to do something by themself like put on their shoes, but because they’re taking too long, you just swoop in and do it for them? And then anger and crying ensues because they didn’t want help.

I’m terrible at this too. As much as I want him to do things for himself, I find myself getting annoyed at how long it’s taking, when I’m in a rush, so I just take over. Bad mommy, I know.

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State of Being

How is their state of being? Meaning is your child tired? Hungry? Bored? Or overstimulated?

We all know how cranky we can be when we don’t meet our basic needs.

Regarding food, Ruth has a great post about how to create a snack shelf for your family.

Now I’m not a perfect mom by any means, and every day is another chance to do better. Usually, when my toddler freaks out, I do my best to de-escalate the situation (sounds like a police standoff, right?) and make sure it doesn’t get any worse.

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Stay Calm

So when your child turns into the Incredible Hulk, you need to stay calm, Mom. How can things calm down if we’ve got two Hulks in screaming matches?

This can be difficult to do because as parents, we hate loud, annoying noises like crying and screaming. So take a deep breath, calm down, or even distance yourself from your child.

Ignore Them

Now experts would say at this point, talk calmly to your child. But I have found this never works for me. In fact, talking to him has the adverse effect because I’m just giving him more attention to scream louder.

I let my toddler belt it out for a few minutes (which seems like hours) but then he will calm down.

Time-Outs

Time-outs can also be very helpful for your child to get their emotions under control. It’s also an ideal way to teach about actions and consequences. Use a timer for your child’s time-out. Experts recommend a minute per year of the child. So in my case, Rylen’s time-out would be four minutes.

Make sure the time-out spot is in a convenient area where you can monitor him to make sure he’s not doing something he shouldn’t be. We like using a children’s stool like this for Rylen’s time-outs.

Talk Calmly

Now is where you should talk to your child. Get to their eye level, and say something like, “Why were you so mad?” or if you understand the reason, say it back to them, “Oh, you were upset because [insert action here].” They would most likely agree and hopefully give some input.

Acknowledging what happened will hopefully prevent future outbursts (unlikely), but it’s important to talk it out so you both understand the situation and can learn from it.

Also, use this time to explain how their actions affected you. I will say something like, “When you scream and hit Mommy, it makes Mommy sad.” Rylen will then usually say sorry after this.

Reaffirm Your Love

Once you’ve talked it out, hug it out, and let them know how much you love them. It’s important our kids know how much we love them. I once read something somewhere that said it’s important our kids feel our touch at least once per day. As they get older, it’s easy to forget this. But I digress.

Public Tantrums

In a perfect world tantrums wouldn’t happen or when they do, they only happen at home, right? Highly unlikely. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a tantrum at the grocery store. I think grocery stores are just designed to overstimulate our children and cause tantrums.

Experts recommend keeping handy snacks available when shopping with kids to curb tantrums when your child wants something from the shelf, and you say no.

When tantrums happen, we just want to leave our shopping cart and get out of Dodge with what dignity is left remaining, but this is only a temporary solution and won’t bring you closer to ensuring it doesn’t happen again.

Just because you’re in a different setting doesn’t mean you still can’t apply some of these tactics. Don’t let your fear of judgment and embarrassment affect your mom skills. We’ve all been there, done that. 🙂

Hope

With the right mindset and know-how, we can quickly overcome these tantrums. Don’t worry, Mom. When tantrums happen… this too shall pass. If we stop being fearful of tantrums and look at them as opportunities for growth, it’ll help us overcome them.

All in all, we’re just doing the best we can. There ain’t no handbook — if there is, can someone send me a copy?

How do you handle tantrums? Let me know in the comments!

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