Picture the scene, you are at the grocery store, stressing about what to buy for dinner as your 5 year old throws everything you don’t want to buy in the basket and your two year old suddenly throws herself on the floor. Before you know it, arms and legs are flying everywhere, high pitched screams follow and suddenly there are a hundred pairs of eyes looking at you in disapproval. We have all been there right? Well, I have sure been there more times than I care to remember. As parents, one of the most difficult periods we have to adjust to is the terrible twos and turbulent threes, in which tantrums are just a part of life.
You may be asking yourself, how can I stop my child from throwing tantrums, but the answer is you cannot. Toddlers are constantly learning at a super fast rate, often faster than their emotional de-velopment can handle. If you think about the times you get angry, it is probably when you are over-tired, frustrated or are having to do something you don’t want to do. It is the same for toddlers, only they cannot express themselves as eloquently as adults.
Do not despair, though, as even though you cannot stop tantrums, you can reduce the severity of tantrums and the amount of tantrums that your child experiences.
Look at Reducing Tantrums
The first thing that you need to do is to assess why your child is having a tantrum. More often than not, children will tantrum when they are tired, unstimulated or are not getting the attention that they feel they need. If you think about why everyone uses the grocery store example, it is probably be-cause that is where a lot of toddlers find that they become second fiddle. Us busy parents are con-centrating on filling our baskets as quickly as possible, with the attention taken off the needs of the child.
Simple things, like making sure your child has a nap before shopping in the afternoon or mak-ing sure that your child does not need a diaper/pants change before leaving the house, can make a huge difference. It is also a good idea to talk to your toddler before leaving the house, let them know that you are going to be going to see the doctor and they may have to wait a while etc. The more the child knows about the situation they will be in, the more they can prepare for it.
No matter how much you stay in tune with your toddler and try to pre-empt his/her tantrum, they will happen. The two most important things that you can do for your toddler, when he/she is experi-encing a tantrum, is to STAY CALM and to STAY PRESENT. You may have read childcare books that tell you to ignore your toddler when they are having a meltdown or you may have had advised passed down from your great aunt, who says that you need to punish this ‘bad behavior’. In truth, there may be times when you feel that your toddler is simply throwing a tantrum as he/she is not getting what they want or having their own way. In situations like this, it is good to send a clear mes-sage that tantrums are not acceptable, which you can do by remaining silent or walking away, where appropriate.
When the tantrum is due to frustration, empathy is needed as opposed to punishment. Your child will be feeling bad that he/she lost control of his/her emotions and will want your affection and un-derstanding more than anything. Getting into an argument with your child is not going to solve any issues, it will only lengthen or escalate the tantrum. Take deep breaths, allow the tantrum to pass as you stand right by your child and offer a hug once it is over. If the tantrum does occur in a public place, you may want to pick your child up and take them to a quiet place, until the tantrum ceases. It may seem easier to scream and shout back at your child, when they are not listening to you, but always remember that you are the adult in the situation.
After the tantrum has ceased and you are back in the comfort of your own home, it is ok to talk about the tantrum. Your child will need to know that you understand why he/she was upset, so say something like “ I could see that you got a little frustrated earlier at the store, I know how it feels to be frustrated“. You can follow up by gently asking if there was anything you could have done for him/her and you may surprised to hear the reason why. It could be something as simple as not hearing him/her ask for his/her favorite snack or that they felt too tired to go shopping. I was sur-prised recently when my toddler announced that I was ignoring her whilst texting on my cell phone. A wake up call for me, indeed.
Regular checks on how your child is feeling really can make a difference in the handling of toddler tantrums and who knows, next time you go to the grocery store, you may just get through it in one piece.