We have all seen it. A toddler throwing themselves on the floor kicking and screaming. If it is not our child we just say a prayer for the hopeless looking mom in the middle of the grocery store. If it is our child… well there are multiple ways you may or may not react in the moment, but how should a parent respond? Is there a way out of this situation that doesn’t leave both you and your child feeling wounded?
How to Survive a Toddler Tantrum
The first thing to realize is that your young one is probably not being defiant. Tantrums are usually the result of frustration from not being able to communicate or tell someone what it is that you need or want. Tantrums may also be a result of showing displeasure for not getting what the child wants.
Want the keys to figure out how to survive a toddler tantrum?
Unfortunately we often learn what doesn’t work before we learn what does work. Here are some things I have learned over the years.
- Talking and reasoning doesn’t work.
- Dragging them kicking and screaming doesn’t work. (but was sometimes necessary until I could get to a more suitable location):)
- Giving in may be a short term solution but if you always cave, it only makes things worse.
I am a firm believer that knowledge is power, so it is important to understand just what is happening to your little guy or gal when the tantrum takes over. The best way of understanding this is to understand the human brain and how it functions.
Think for a moment how long it takes you to learn something new. What about a new language? A toddler can learn multiple languages at one time! How many adults do you know who can do that? I took a year of French in high school and the only thing I can say is “My name is Madaline”!
During the toddler years, your child’s brain will experience its most rapid growth period.
Just think about it, these little guys are constantly in learning mode. Everything is new and yet they don’t have the skills they need to communicate. Can you imagine being immersed into a totally new situation where you were dependent on someone else for everything and yet couldn’t tell anyone what you needed. To say I would be frustrated would be an understatement.
God, however, designed us this way. During the toddler years a child’s whole brain in actively learning and growing. It is like a circuit board were every possible connection is turned on. It is a parents job to equip their kiddos with the tools they need to navigate the world they are in. These tools are going to be different at every age level.
One key is to Learn to communicate at the toddler level.
I love the way that the book The Happiest Toddler on the Block puts it. The authors refer to toddlers as cave-kids, saying that their form of communication is much like that of a caveman. They report that during the toddler years, the right side of the brain which is most prone to being active, verses the left more logical and reasoning side, is the most dominant. Therefore they suggest communicating with short instructions making use of nonverbal skills such as tone of voice, facial expressions, and sign language.
A SECOND KEY IS DOWNTIME
Remember how we said your child’s brain is working and learning like a crazy computer? Make sure that your toddler has some downtime. Time without the distractions of music, video, company, and other stimulants. (I’ll sneak in healthy diet right here!) There is nothing better than going for a walk or playing in the backyard. The sounds that God provided for us in nature can be very soothing and there is nothing like a good dose of sunshine to brighten your day. So…Take a break and get outside! Spread a blanket on the ground and read some books or take a nap under a tree.
My third key is to keep your cool
During times of stress, the chemical balance in our brains shift to a more fight or flight mode. At the same time other chemicals are released that slow down the reasoning and logic side of our brains which make communication seem that much harder. This happens in everyone regardless of age. I know from experience that feeling overwhelmed and anticipating the feeling of helplessness and frustration when a tantrum comes, can cause me to react to a fit in the wrong way. If I am not careful at the first scream, I will tone match and be just as off the charts as my kids (I say this now because teenagers have their own versions of tantrums). Sorry moms, but teens and toddlers are not that different. You can read about that here if you wish.
Help manage your own emotions by having a plan.
- Anticipate the coming tantrum. Know that it is just a part of toddler life and that it will pass. Have a verse or a prayer ready when one comes that you can say or claim that will give you the strength to patiently endure.
- Stop and breathe.
- Try to assess the situation, what is causing your child to be frustrated.
- Remember to try and communicate with them in nonverbal ways they can understand.
Finally equip your child with the right skills.
If you haven’t noticed by now, your child is moving towards becoming more independent. Let’s face it as parents that is exactly what we want. We want our kids to grow up and to be able to care for themselves in certain ways. Oh, the joy when they first learn to hold their own bottle, learn to use the potty on their own, or can wash their own clothes (well that one is a little far away but you can dream, right?)
Things you can do to help your toddler become more independent:
- A Routine. Toddlers need to know what to expect. Routines help them to know what is coming next and can alleviate some of their frustration. It is important to make undivided attention part of your routine. Toddlers need time when they can have all of you. Times when you are doing more than giving them things to do between phone calls or loads of laundry. I know the schedule of busy moms can be very taxing, but I promise that everyone will benefit from some scheduled undivided attention. If you don’t already have a routine in place, ease into it as quickly as your child can adjust.
- Self-soothing tools. Especially for those sleepy ones, they need something other than you to soothe themselves to sleep. Being your child’s security blanket will eventually make you feel like a blanket. Find a stuffed animal, snuggle blanket, or some music to play and make bedtime and nap time its own routine. If you have been the “blankie” don’t go cold turkey. Introduce your child to the new sleep aid, when they are in a good mood not during a fit and then bring it in slowly as part of your routine. As that item is associated with comfort, they can eventually use it to soothe themselves.
- Teach sign-language. Babies are super smart, however, it takes a lot of work to get your words working if you know what I mean. The more signs that your baby has to communicate with the less frustration there will be. Also knowing they have explained something and been understood will give them a great sense of accomplishment.
Remember to have compassion. Your child is learning lots of new things like how to share and how to have manners. Considering the sinful nature we are born with, none of these things are natural. Just like you need patience to die to your selfish and worldly ways, so does your toddler. Being upset when something doesn’t go their way is perfectly natural. This is just the beginning of a life long process learning to grieve and deal with loss. Your loving support during these times will help shape your child into the person God desires for them to be.
May the Lord bless you with strength on your journey.
If you have questions, comments, or a great idea to share, write us a message below. We would love to hear from you.